The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking
Hannah Fidell travels The Long Dumb Road
Hannah Fidell's new road trip comedy The Long Dumb Road begins, suitably, with a car leaving Austin. The erstwhile Austin resident, who filmed her breakthrough films A Teacher and 6 Years here, explained, "It's a drive I've definitely done."
But behind the wheel of this particular automobile is Austinite Nat (Tony Revolori), who is taking off for California. When mechanic Richard (Jason Mantzoukas) fixes his car, the college-bound kid offers to give this seemingly wise old soul a lift for a couple of towns. Fidell was actually inspired by her friend Nat Sanders (editor of the Oscar-winning Moonlight, as well as the Duplass brothers' The Do-Deca-Pentathlon). She said, "He spent a few years in Austin, and he befriended a few drifter types, and then eventually moved to L.A. But on his way there he had picked up one of these guys and had promised to take [him] to somewhere along the way." Fidell admits she became "enamored" of the story. "It's just so iconic. Here's a kid who thinks he just doesn't have enough experience in the world, so he decides that this drifter guy has more life experience. It just spoke to me."
But Nat soon finds out that this was not such a great idea. Not The Hitcher's C.-Thomas-Howell-letting-Rutger-Hauer-in-his-passenger-door bad idea: Instead, this is more Fidell's antidote to the myth of the Dharma Bum. Rather than learning something profound about the universe from some mysterious enlightened drifter, she said, "You just spend two hours talking about The Fast and the Furious." If Nat does learn a lesson, she said, it's simple: "Don't pick up strangers."
The great American road trip movie is ingrained in the culture (take Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which Fidell called "the greatest movie of all time"). But would she pick up a hitchhiker for a similar experience? She laughed. Never. The biggest risk she's ever faced is "just the monotony of the road." However, she understands the impetus to pick up a traveling companion. "The road is scary, especially if you're going alone – whether or not you want to admit it."
There have been a lot of changes in Fidell's life, and not just relocating to L.A. Like many indie directors, she has been making a transition to episodic drama, having helmed two episodes of Hulu's Casual and an installment of Facebook Watch's Sorry for Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen – plus she's been developing a miniseries based on A Teacher for FX. The Long Dumb Road (based off her 2016 short titled The Road) came in part as a reaction to the increasing fear that she was being pigeonholed – a danger for every young filmmaker but especially, she said, for women. "There's no one who wants to explore the female experience more than I do," she said, but in the wake of 6 Years, "I was being sent only very serious relation young adult dramas, and I just wanted to creatively try something different and get out of my wheelhouse. ... I wanted to show people something different, and selfishly open up the range of projects that I could then go on to do."
She also admitted to a small degree of selfishness in wanting to make a flat-out, laugh-out-loud comedy – especially, she said, during the Trump presidency. "The last thing I want to do is watch something that's going to make me feel worse about the world. And if I can bring a little bit of joy and laughter to people, then this movie was a success."