Mostly everyone by the time they’ve reached their late twenties/early thirties has had to face the tragic loss of a close friend, relative, or God forbid, a parent or a spouse. In Wade Wofford’s The Answer, poet and professor Gavin (Christian Bester) has just lost his wife, Jessica (Justine Beirne). Six months after her death in a car accident, Gavin has still not even remotely taking steps to feel better about his situation until he is placed on leave from the University of Georgia where he is a professor.
Gavin’s younger brother, Harry (Bjorn Gessle), lives in their hometown of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Once he hears about the incident that resulted in Gavin forced leave (involving the assault of a student who fell asleep in his class) he decides to organize a hiking trip on part of the Appalachian Trail that goes through Vermont. The trip is not only for the two brothers but for the rest of Gavin’s close-knit group of guy friends from college.
Gavin’s group of friends are about as different from one another as one could imagine. We have Wesley (Jeff Stanley), a theater director, who’s been trying for years to “make it” despite self-doubt and exhaustion (is there any creative in New York who can’t relate with this?). Wesley currently lives in Brooklyn who lives with his boyfriend, Fareed (Neimah Djourabchi). Next up is Jase (Elan Even) from Seattle. Despite being incredibly intelligent and possibly a philosophical genius, he can’t hold down a job. He would rather spend his time reading books and going to Phish concerts. Finally, Alex (John Anthony Wylliams), the successful businessman, who still resides in East Longmeadow with his wife and son. While, on paper, he has all he ever wanted, but still suffers from acute existential dread.
“The trip is not only for the two brothers but for the rest of Gavin’s close-knit group of guy friends…”
After some coercion, Harry gets all the guys together, including Fareed, to go on this long hike. Not everyone is particularly thrilled with the amount of hiking and nature that’s involved, particularly Wesley, and Alex and especially Gavin–all with massive chips on their shoulders. Gavin is there for the trip, but mostly only physically. His mind is still entangled in the despair that ensued upon his wife’s passing.
As the hike progresses, we get to know more about the group little by little, hearing stories about their college days, lots of quotes from John Hughes movies (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Vacation, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles) and a lot of minor little tiffs here and there, especially with Alex and…well everyone else. As the trip continues, Gavin seems only to become more detached and angry. The rest of the group seems unable to help him. Of course, Jase’s remedy to this is an “Apache ceremonial rite,” i.e. tripping on mushrooms.
Gavin has an exceptionally bad trip during the ceremonial rite. It seems to unlock his emotional floodgates. He lost the ability to write, or even express himself, ever since his wife died, which is not good news for the poet laureate of Athens, GA. His anger is compounded not only by the loss of his wife but also the loss of his and Harry’s parents, who also died in a car accident.
The Answer is a great film about male bonding that doesn’t condescend to the typical bullshit that most movies of this ilk resort to. We see a side to male friendships that doesn’t revolve around sports, or strip clubs, or whatever else “bros” are supposed to like, according to Hollywood. Of course, sports are discussed in brief, because this isn’t a fantasy film, but they’re used as a means of bringing disparate Jase and Alex closer together.
“Emotions are expressed and exchanged in a real way, without “emasculating” them…”
Emotions are expressed and exchanged in a real way, without “emasculating” them. Gay men and straight men are hanging out together without any name calling. A guy cries, and no one calls him a “pussy” or a “wimp.” Imagine that! This is the kind of movie we need in our current society, where people finally realize the pitfalls of toxic masculinity. The Answer shows that men can be more than the stereotypes they usually encompass in films. That a guy can be macho and also have feelings. That a gay guy can be just as “masculine” as a straight one, That the guy who has it all can still be depressed, etc.
These are things that most people, in reality, know to be true, but aren’t often explored in mainstream cinema. All fiction based narratives have classically resorted to archetypes and stereotypes to relate universal truths to wide audiences. These archetypes can be helpful at times, but generally, we need to realize that there are audiences smart enough to appreciate stories that mirror the world in which we actually live. The Answer is one of those stories. I highly recommend watching it, not only for the refreshing narrative but the beautiful cinematography which shows us the glorious splendor of the Appalachian Trail. It’s absolutely worth a watch.
The Answer (2018) Written and Directed by Wade Wofford. Starring Christian Bester, Bjorn Gessle, John Anthony Wylliams, Elan Even, Jeff Stanley, Neimah Djourabchi, and Justine Bierne.
7 out of 10 stars