You’d think that Justin Timberlake couldn’t be anyone other than Justin Timberlake. We just know too much about him. His whole life story is public record, and when his girlfriend goes mountain climbing in Africa without him, speculation sets in that they’ve broken up. We’ve seen the inside of his house, we’ve seen the golf course he owns, we’ve seen his favorite gift to hand out at Christmas. He is JT, and it would seem reasonable to conclude that his public persona would never expand beyond that, ala The Rock or Britney. It’s actually an interesting exercise to come up with pop artists who have successfully acted as anything other than themselves. (Can you top my number one answer: Mark Wahlberg?)
At any rate, you’d think that Justin Timberlake’s performing career would be limited to singing, dancing, and taking reasonably good tabloid photos, but you would be wrong. He can inhabit the body of a person not himself with what is, by any measure, an unfair quantity of talent. And so we enter The Open Road.
In this film, Timberlake plays a minor league baseball player (all right, suspend disbelief, that’s what movies are about) who learns in the opening scenes that his mother (Kate Mara) has been admitted to the hospital in need of life-saving surgery. She tells him, though, that she has dreamed that if she goes into surgery without having seen his long-estranged father, she’s going to die, so she won’t do it until Carlton (Timberlake) goes to get him. Given the rocky history that Carlton has with his father, Carlton’s first stop after the hospital is to best friend Lucy’s apartment to awkwardly ask-without-asking-her that she go with him to retrieve his parent. Lucy is the kind of person who doesn’t actually exist, but you wish she did. Kind, sweet, insightful, understanding, and willing to drop everything and fly across the country with an ex-boyfriend who is afraid of his elusive father. She just needs to be back by Wednesday.
Jeff Bridges plays Carlton’s baseball-legend father Kyle, and he puts in a typical performance as the commitophobe who is unsure about even getting on a plane to fly from Ohio to Texas to see his critically ill ex(?)-wife. (Don’t get too caught up in defining the relationships in this movie; the most functional relationship Carlton has may be the one with his mom’s doctor, and that only for about one scene.) He agrees to go, but turns up at the airport without his wallet, cueing up the road trip implied by the title.
The cast spends the next 45 minutes of the movie lost somewhere in Kentucky, trying to get to Memphis so that Lucy can fly back to her regularly scheduled life and religiously avoiding interstates because there might have been some construction on one, at some point. Tensions build, Kyle drinks, Carlton and Lucy platonically share a hotel room every night. (It’s so that Carlton can look over at her and sigh while she’s sleeping.) In the end, so little of the movie has made sense that the actual resolution doesn’t much matter, but the personal vulnerability expressed by the characters makes them each individually endearing. So you can walk away without hating the whole movie or wishing you had your hour and a half back. It’s not a bad way to burn the time.
From the opening scene on, this isn’t a movie about Justin Timberlake. It’s about a guy named Carlton who has no idea what he actually wants to do with his life or what makes him happy, but who loves his mom. For a guy whose entire dating career has been earth-shattering news, that’s truly impressive. On the other hand, if you want to see proof that Justin Timberlake can take a vacation from himself, see Alpha Dog. I can’t tell you that I liked it more than The Open Road, but as far as characters, plots, scripts, and conflicts go, I would definitely crown it a superior product.
- Would I see this film opening weekend? No, I wouldn’t pay the price of a ticket at all for this one
- Would I see something else opening weekend? No. If other people got excited about this movie, I wouldn’t be upset about it.
- Will I watch this movie again? Nah. I didn’t hate it, and it made me smile, but I’ve got a library of movies in line in front of this one for rewatchability.