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Short History of the Long Road - Special Edition, The
Nola (Sabrina Carpenter) has never known anything other than life on the road. She and her father Clint (Steven Ogg) live out of their well-worn VW Westfalia, roaming around in search of odd handyman jobs that keep them fed and the vehicle maintained. Nola isn't unhappy, necessarily: she has a decent relationship with her father, even though she doesn't share his restlessness, and she desperately wants to know more about her mother, Cheryl, who left when she was an infant. The day after Clint finally agrees to take Nola to New Orleans, the place she was born and named after, he dies unexpectedly, forcing Nola to fend for herself as she tries to figure out the next destination on her lifelong road trip.
A glance at the plot of The Short History of the Long Road might inspire comparisons to Nomadland, Chloe Zhao's film about modern American drifters, now up for several major awards. In truth, it's probably closer to Leave No Trace, Debra Granik's 2018 adaptation about a father whose fragile emotional state has informed everything his daughter has ever known. Short History is a similar (albeit distinctly different) exploration of the way parents' behaviors impact the lives of their children, as well as a coming-of-age story of a young woman who is forced to decide what kind of path she wants to forge for herself.
Most of Short History takes place after Clint has died, and the various people and situations that Nola finds herself in are juxtaposed elegantly with flashbacks of her relationship with her father. Many movies make the mistake of using flashbacks as a form of exposition, but writer/director Ami Simon-Kennedy wisely focuses most of these glimpses and snippets on mood and emotion, with the brief scenes serving to enrich the portrait of Nola and Clint's relationship. In the wake of her father's death, Nola struggles for awhile. She makes an attempt at her father's handyman hustle, briefly falls in with a churchgoing foster family, half-heartedly tries her hand at crime, and then finally finds herself working at an auto repair shop run by Miguel (Danny Trejo), who tries to put up a stern front but quickly reveals his kindness. She also befriends Blue (Jashaun St. John), another girl her age, who hangs around the auto shop instead of going home to an abusive father.
With her father gone, Nola's desire to know more about her mother overwhelms her, and after some internet sleuthing, she locates Cheryl (Maggie Siff) in New Orleans. It is fair to say -- an an observation, not a criticism -- there is a certain measure of predictability in the first half of Short History, both from what we've seen in other movies about both parent-child relationships, or movies about financial struggle, as well as what we know from reality. The dynamic that emerges between Nola and Cheryl is the film's most original and rewarding section, with Simon-Kennedy evoking a sympathy for both parties in a thorny and complicated homecoming, as well as retroactively adding yet another layer to Ogg's character and the way he plays his scenes. Carpenter gives a solid performance throughout the movie, but her work with Siff is especially powerful, with both actors bringing out the best in each other.
There are times when the decidedly small-scale nature of Short History feels as if it puts a limit on a potential dramatic reward, but patience is a virtue, with Simon-Kennedy and her editor Ron Dulin working out an excellent sense of pacing, packing two hours worth of conflict into only 93 minutes. Much like Nola's journey, some of the pit stops and pauses through the story seem small or relatively unimportant in the moment, but they accumulate into an unexpectedly moving payoff. Simon-Kennedy eschews larger conflicts to focus on character, to the film's benefit. Well worth seeking out.
The movie poster (featuring Carpenter faded in over a landscape background) is re-used as the key art for The Short History of the Long Road. The rest of the packaging is pretty basic, with a similar landscape on the backdrop and a basic layout of photos and text. The one-disc Blu-ray release comes in a Vortex case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
MVD offers Short History as a 1.78:1 1080p AVC-encoded video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio presentation. For the most part, the cinematography has a slightly muted, naturalistic palette, and a level of clarity that appears to be trying to evoke film, with softer medium and wide shots and crisp close-ups with a shallow depth of field. The results can look just a tiny bit mushy sometimes, with delineation between similarly-toned colors in low-light scenarios looking a little hazy and shadows fluctuating in their depth from scene to scene, but no actual issues with banding and artifacts crop up. The 5.1 mix is mostly dedicated to the film's atmospheric score and the occasional bit of naturalistic ambience, with the movie being dialogue-driven and relatively subtle. A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is also included, as are optional English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Despite being labeled a "special edition" (I still do not understand FilmRise's model of releasing a "standard" Blu-ray with a "special edition" a few months later), all the disc offers is a jaunty blooper reel (2:25) and a 140-image photo gallery. It's a shame; an audio commentary with writer/director Ami Simon-Kennedy would've really increased the value.
An original theatrical trailer for The Short History of the Long Road is also included.
The Short History of the Long Road is a focused character study, one which might start out feeling familiar, but slowly works its way into unique and uncharted waters, aided by strong performances and a sharp script. The "special edition" Blu-ray is a little anemic, but the film itself is highly recommended.
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