SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! When you think of a late-night bus driver, it’s probably not going to look a lot like Michael (Charlie Tahan), the leading loser of Drunk Bus. He doesn’t have that white flag face, where his best years are behind him, and even those weren’t too good. Nor does he have the wherewithal to cash in his hopes, put on some weight, and become the jolly neighborhood bus driver. He’s just stuck in a reoccurring nightmare with a violent case of lovesickness. He’s also a bit malnourished.
Fresh off a lopsided split with his girlfriend, Michael’s left making ends meet by driving what is not-so-affectionally referred to as the “drunk bus.” This late-night route is in a college town, which means its regulars include obnoxious squads of fraternity chest-thumpers, melted make-up self-pitying vomit-spewers, and an old coot who’s mind is leaving him behind. The last things to go are a naughty word and a strong middle finger. After a run-in with an extracurricular bully, the bus company pairs Michael with a bodyguard, Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa).
Pineapple takes on the mentor role in this coming-of-age story because, apparently, there has to be one. Ever since Sal had Dean, it seems like every story involving an impressionable, directionless young person must include a wild and confident older figure to grab him by the hand and lead him to the other side. Whatever. Drunk Bus doesn’t really fudge this the formula in significant ways, but what it does, it does well.
“…Michael’s left making ends meet by driving what is not-so-affectionally referred to as the ‘drunk bus.'”
As a makeshift big brother, Pineapple becomes a valuable source for wisdom. Such gems as “virgins don’t have types” are freely dispensed and without impediment. There’s also a real sense of brotherhood between Michael and Pineapple, partly due to the latter’s performance, which flows naturally, not unlike his character’s profound understanding of the virgin condition. Tahan, too, sells Michael as an angsty college pass-out, recently deflated of all ambition.
But what really keeps the movie from losing credibility is the drunk bus itself. There’s an odd, eerie sense of community that forms in such a place, and it shines through in the movie. It’s like everyone is trapped in the same purgatory and keeps getting on the bus, thinking, “this is the time it takes me away,” but it always drops you off back where you started. It passes the same waypoints over and over again, with the only change being the misspelling on the sign of the local grease kitchen. Only the driver can break the loop if it can ever be broken.
There are a lot of lost, aimless young adults who may never find a true direction, and Michael’s one of them. Drunk Bus, directed by Brandon Laganke and John Carlucci, is a deja-vu inducing coming-of-age story with enough character and good cheer to make you forgive how unadventurous it is. Not every movie has to break the mold, but you don’t have to jump in so easily, either. Kick and scream a little, scratch some eyes.
Drunk Bus was scheduled to screen at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.