Is there any activity that better represents the freedom and unlimited opportunity of youth than the road trip? A group of friends. Good tunes. The open road. Delicious cured meat-based snacks. And Canada is a perfect setting for such an adventure, as driving across our great nation means discovering countless interesting, diverse communities and neighborhoods, incredible food, not to mention some of the most staggeringly beautiful natural scenery known to man.
That covers around five per cent of the trip, anyway. There are also multiple-day stretches that rank below reading the dictionary on the fun scale. Identical Ontario towns that look like the city planner smashed three strip malls into each other as part of some kind of cruel experiment in mediocrity. Endless, flat Regina farmland that goes on for so long that you begin to question whether your former life wasn’t just some kind of dream you invented to distract yourself from the boring-ass dystopian wheat universe you inhabit. Ottawa.
For those moments, it’s best to bust out whatever media consumption device you happen to favour and put on a flick, and when on a road trip, why not get meta with it and watch a road trip movie? Here are a few suggestions:
“You’re on a gravy train with biscuit wheels.”
This raunchy comedy starring Woody Harrelson as a one-handed former bowling prodigy conman and Randy Quaid as his naive Amish protege (along with an all-timer performance from Bill Murray as legendary bowler and absurdly terrible human being Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken) was the movie the Farrelly Brothers released after striking box office gold with Dumb & Dumber. While it wound up becoming more of a cult classic than an international smash hit, it remains quite possibly their funniest movie.
“All we have is now, and right now we have each other.”
You can go with either the Britney Spears or the Ralph Macchio version. Or even better, play them both at the same time to create a new movie about a pop singer who, along with her sidekick, the Karate Kid, drives to LA to win back the soul of a famous blues guitar player from Satan in a high-stakes karaoke battle.
“For the first time, he wished he were far away. Lost in a deep, vast country where nobody knew him. Somewhere without language, or streets.”
What, you think just because you’re on a road trip, you can’t get introspective and artistic with your movie choices? You think you’re too good for the heartbreaking, understated lead performance from Harry Dean Stanton, or the gorgeous, stark cinematography of Robby Müller? You think just because you’re tripping balls on an unholy combination of human body odour, gas station jerky, and Monster energy drinks that you can’t take in the winner of the 1984 Cannes Palme D’Or? Get yourself together. Damn.
“So, according to this, we’re in Goblin Valley. Great. I mean, it couldn’t be Happy Valley or Wonderful Valley. Goblin Valley. Why not Axe Murderer’s Valley?”
Maybe The Wizard is just a 90-minute commercial for a failed (but totally awesome) Nintendo Entertainment System peripheral, The Power Glove, but it’s not without its charms. A bit of silly empty-calorie fun to pass some time during the two or three full days of westward driving it takes just to get out of Ontario. Also, big shout out to Fred Savage for being the undisputed king of ’80s/’90s child actors and not going full Corey Feldman as an adult. You never go full Feldman.
Y tu Mama Tambien
“Life is like the foam of the sea. You must dive into it.”
Alfonso Cuaron translated the success he achieved from writing and directing this sweet coming-of-age film about two Mexican teens and a beautiful older woman navigating emotional landmines on a road trip fraught with sexual tension into a position as one of Hollywood’s most visually inventive and sought-after directors. Get that Harry Potter money, Alfonso. It also launched the career of gifted actor and incredibly handsome man Gael Garcia Bernal, so you can get lost in his eyes while you’re lost on some random Manitoba service road.
Thelma and Louise
“Let’s just keep going.”
Thelma & Louise became such a zetigeist-y movie in the early 90s that its key beats (specifically the ending) were parodied extensively, which kind of diminished the original film’s effectiveness. But in case you haven’t revisited it lately, it is a great movie (easily Ridley Scott’s best of the ’90s) and a perfect road trip accompaniment. Plus, it’s got an absolutely stellar cast of character actors filling out the supporting parts (Harvey Keitel! Michael Madsen! Stephen Tobolowsky! Christopher McDonald! Brad Pitt in his first ever role!) in addition to Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis’ iconic performances as the title characters.
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
“We can’t stop here. This is bat country.”
A film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal novel detailing his incredibly debauched, drug-fueled Las Vegas trip (born out of an innocuous Rolling Stone assignment to cover a motocross race through the desert) simply had no right to be any good. There isn’t much of a story to speak of, Thompson stand-in Raoul Duke drives to Vegas with his attorney, they get really, really messed up, and he eventually comes to the conclusion that the ’60s are over, the good guys lost, and the American Dream has warped into a grotesque parody of itself. But director Terry Gilliam and stars Johnny Depp & Benicio Del Toro somehow managed to make it great.
“I’m an excellent driver.”
There are certain aspects of the 1988 Best Picture Oscar winner that haven’t exactly aged gracefully, but even if Dustin Hoffman’s lauded performance feels a bit cringey in 2015, it’s still got Tom Cruise at the absolute height of his powers, expert direction from an in-his-prime Barry Levinson, and an absolutely kick-ass Hans Zimmer score. Seriously, even if you don’t watch the movie, just listen to this track on full volume with your arm hanging out the window, watching the landscape speed by behind a pair of wayfarers. It just feels right.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
“This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.”
The Citizen Kane of wacky road trip comedies. He’s been irrelevant for so long (except for a brief renaissance playing Pierce on Community that flamed out in spectacular fashion), it’s easy to forget that Chevy Chase was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet in 1983, and worked with legendary director Harold Ramis from a script by none other than John Hughes to create this transcendent piece of comedy perfection. Christmas Vacation’s seasonal timeliness may make it the most watched of the Vacation franchise, but this is one of the many cases where topping the original is just not possible. The collective worldwide shrug that met the attempted Ed Helms reboot this summer is a testament to this.