Written by Jake Johnson & Trent O’Donnell
Directed by Trent O’Donnell
It’s never too late to change or re-affirm a lost connection – even if one of them is recently deceased. Leif never had much of a relationship with his mother, Honey, the two drifting as she sought out her way in life. But before she died, a set of tapes and plans were put in place for Leif’s inheritance – one which comes with stipulations. Leaving Leif her picturesque cabin in the Yosemite countryside, Leif embarks on claiming his inheritance from his estranged mother; first, though, there are a few odd tasks to do at his late mother’s bequest.
For a cast that seldom encounters one another face-to-face, the connections established between the principal players are intriguingly well-accomplished. Much of the story follows Leif spending moments alone within the Cabin reflecting on the life he has squandered and the time lost with his mother. Locating a videotape to explain the inheritance along with mountains of his late mother’s ‘stash’, Leif and faithful pup Nora begin to follow Honey’s instructions. At first, Jake Johnson’s script has Leif reliving childhood art projects, working on himself through the ghostly guru antics of his mother, but then the dynamic shifts as Leif are tasked with something personal. Honey asks Leif to contact the one who ‘got away’ and to apologise. Following a surprisingly touching phone call with ex-girlfriend Audrey, Leif begins to reignite his feelings for her.
With no interaction, the mesmeric wonderful Susan Sarandon manages to grasp a sense of personality and competency as the recently deceased Honey. Vapid, ditsy, but panging with hurt at the defragmented relationships with Leif. Told entirely through video clips/will testaments, Sarandon channels the zen-like calmness of Honey but manages to communicate the regret in her tone at the failed relationship with her son. And though the same cannot be noted for J.K. Simmons, where Jonson’s writing limits character growth here, there is still a level of joy in witnessing Simmons in full bluster and bravado while mistaking Leif for his deceased mother’s lover.
Save for an instance of mistaken identity, much of Trent O’Donnell’s direction emphasises the authenticity and subdued emotion of the film. Johnston and D’Arcy Carden refrain from placing melodrama into their re-connection, with the only measure of genuine fear or stakes being a pre-climax vanishing of loveable dog Nora. The lengthy phone calls they share, from awkward phone sex to touching confessions, at first seem to rub against the edited pace, but become the central highlights of the film and the pair’s chemistry.
In truth, there is not a whole lot of substance to Ride the Eagle – a brief and pleasant journey that leaves little more than a short smile and the munchies. Judd Overton’s cinematography is aided by the backdrop with the majority of praise here dished out to nature itself, but Overton has a panache for capturing grandeur. Shifting perspectives, lighting plays a role in heightening the briefly tense situations, with a solid majority of the film reflecting the outcomes of acceptance and letting go of things through its brightly lit and revealing lighting.
Besides the Maryjane chilling in every corner of Honey’s cabinets, there’s a detectable whiff of indie surrounding the film. Offbeat, Johnson maintains an air of detachment from the contemporary roots of American comedy-dramas, straying from any lampoons of politics, tricky subjects and instead opts to position the narrative into accessible reaches. Gentile, the characters never stretch too far beyond realms of reality, though the humour does fall flat more than uplift on occasion. Remarkably safe given the context and actors within the film, the writing is a touch too clean, too safe, and too easy to watch.
Ride the Eagle may slather itself in self-indulgent simplicity, but the result is a charming and gentle comedic drama that achieves what it sets out to do and little more. It appreciates the simplicities, carrying this methodology into the filmmaking practice – off-putting for some, but with a measure of intelligent creation behind it. Johnson’s place as both writer and principal lead imbues a sense of slow-building charm, taking time to relax audiences and draw them into the story, even if the film never lands a killer comedic blow or unearths anything distinctly fresh.
Ride The Eagle is available for Digital Download from October 4th.