“The Short History of the Long Road” stars Sabrina Carpenter as Nola, a teen who lives on the road with her father (Steven Ogg) and must now navigate the road of life alone after he dies suddenly. This unique coming-of-age film quietly yet powerfully addresses not just Nola’s road blocks but our country’s figurative ones as well.
The film initially feels like a warm and welcoming road trip movie as the father-daughter duo drive along the wide open roads of New Mexico. Through casual conversations between the two, we learn of their beginnings and, most importantly, the fact Nola was abandoned by her mother as an infant, leaving Dad to raise her in the only way he saw fit — in a van, traveling the country.
This relaxed atmosphere soon turns to tragedy as Nola’s father unexpectedly dies leaving her to fend for herself and rely on the skills he taught her. Of course, she runs into issues that derail her plan including her van breaking down and having no money. Nola finds herself at a crossroads after meeting Miguel (Danny Trejo), a mechanic, and Marcie (Rusty Schwimmer), a mother of 10 children, giving her previously unforeseen options for her life.
This is a unique film in so many different ways. Carpenter’s portrayal of Nola extraordinarily creates a deep and thoughtful character filled with a myriad of emotions that can be read easily without a single word uttered. Carpenter exhibits authentic reactions to her ever-changing world wrought with confusion, danger and ultimately a clear path ahead. Carpenter invites us to sit in the passenger seat next to her to experience her every thought and emotion.
Addressing Nola’s issues of abandonment by her mother, her first line of support is to find Mom (Maggie Siff). This, of course, eventually is compounded with emotional ups and downs, but what is heartbreaking is the child-like needs Nola still has, yearning for a mother and finding the definition doesn’t quite fit her mom.
We witness Nola having to become an adult very quickly, and we also see the world around her with the issues that face Americans. From discussions of educational options and opportunities to homelessness and healthcare, “The Short History of the Long Road” delicately addresses the social dilemmas many Americans wrestle every day.
Creating an environment that adequately expresses all of this could be a daunting process for any filmmaker, but writer/director Ani Simon-Kennedy expertly takes us on this adventure, winding back and forth between the freedom of the enchanting roads and landscape to the confined and tight situations Nola encounters. These visually striking situations, thanks to cinematographer Cailin Yatsko, paired with deft direction, create an opportunity for Carpenter to blossom before our eyes, gaining confidence and knowledge to make the right decisions for herself.
The supporting cast weaves in and out of the storyline as they help Carpenter’s character grow. Trejo stands out Miguel, the father figure, loving and kind, as he attempts to guide Nola and provide a greater understanding of his world. Schwimmer’s Marcie pushes Nola in an opposite direction of Miguel, but it’s necessary in order to give Nola the bookends of information to make her own choices for her future.
And Jashaun St. John’s Blue, Nola’s only same-age friend, broadens her horizons of family and the traumatic effect of abuse while still maintaining a beautiful beginning of a long-lasting and much needed friendship for Nola. The chemistry between Carpenter and St. John is incredibly believable, making you feel they truly became friends and still are long after the cameras stopped shooting.
“The Short History of the Long Road” is a gorgeous portrayal of growing up amidst the challenges our world presents us. Evocative and authentic performances by the entire cast give way to one of the most unique coming of age films to date. And as Simon-Kennedy recently relayed to me in an interview, “This movie was going to live or die on the shoulders of whoever played [Nola],” and Carpenter makes it thrive.
You can see this film at several drive-in theaters or stream it on all major digital platforms.
To read the interview with Simon-Kennedy, click here.
Reel Talk rating: 4 Stars