Teenage Emily (Ebony Nave) is a bit of a party girl, going out to clubs, doing drugs and the like. Her rebellion peaks when she is expelled from school, and hits an unexpected roadblock when she runs away from her foster parents and gets stranded in a middle of nowhere small town after the car she’s stolen breaks down. It is in this predicament that she meets Shane (Pete Valley) at the local gas station, who takes a shine to her and takes her in.
Emily’s presence in town causes drama, particularly with Michelle (Ashlee Jensen), Shane’s not-quite-girlfriend who nonetheless sees herself in the role. As Emily begins to open up and turn her life around amid her new surroundings, with Shane alongside her with his own revelations to share, her past threatens to destroy the calm even as more immediate dangers present themselves.
Ashlee Jensen’s 500 Miles is sometimes a coming of age film, sometimes a fish out of water tale, but those elements operate within the grander scope of a romantic drama. Shane’s intentions seem predominantly innocent and pure at first, but there’s little denying that his affections for Emily grow pretty fast, especially as she becomes more of a fixture in his life and the two open up to one another. As she begins to let her guard down, it actually seems like we’re in for a more gentle narrative than the dramatic deluge that eventually comes along.
At one point, things get extremely dark in tone and it feels less organic to the film and more like the film just needed something terribly drastic to jumpstart the narrative again. Likewise other plot points, particularly in the third act, feel forced and unnatural. I’m not saying, for example, that Shane wouldn’t be upset upon finding drugs in Emily’s clothes after so much time spent together, but I am saying that the extent of that anger is disproportionate considering the other feelings he’s expressed, and the understanding he’s shown throughout. In this instance, he doesn’t seem upset because the character actually is, but because the film required it. Likewise Emily’s response.
Which, honestly, is fine; it’s not like narratives throughout the history of time are not guilty of forced drama to move a plot forward. Simply, some just manage to make it feel more natural and less pronounced. When it feels forced, whether it is or not, the result is a separation from the film. If you disengage, sometimes it’s hard to get back in to it. Here, I think the film works well even with its slower pacing, but it does tend to meander. I can understand why the filmmakers may want to push the film forward in some way. I just wish it felt more natural to the story.
But that’s the narrative framework, and the truth is that everyone works well within that framework. The performances are solid, and the film comes together properly on all the technical levels. The pacing, again, can be somewhat slow in chunks, but the film is still edited with a smooth rhythm that stops it from becoming uninteresting or boring.
Overall, 500 Miles can feel pretty standard. It works in all the ways that it should, and where it has weaknesses, at least by my estimation, they don’t entirely derail the entire experience. The film isn’t one that I’d write home about, or likely remember enough to suggest to someone on a whim, but it wasn’t an unpleasant film to sit through.
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