The Road Dog

The Road Dog
The Road Dog
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Self-destruction could be considered as a sort of deliverance. Absolutely, the drugs and alcohol and careless living may produce faster ends, but for certain individuals, existence without them is like living death, a prolonged self-annihilation. For most of us it’s not about things that are necessary for life but rather they are important for creation of desire to stay alive such as having a relationship, following pop culture icons, being in the right profession or having an eye for the arts. To some folks, this consists alcohol and that’s how they make it through each day. And don’t mention their health because if they liked life so much then why would they be drunk all over?

For Jimmy Quinn, it is alcohol and perhaps to a lesser degree stand-up comedy. In The Road Dog Jimmy is part of the old guard doomed to the Sisyphean stand-up circuits where he trundles across America from dive to dive telling jokes that tend to be too clever for his audiences’ brains. He was never big on TV; he couldn’t bear wearing a suit on late-night television because his buddies from high school went on to get sitcom deals or have TV specials while bitter Jimmy isn’t self-destructive enough for any of those things or maybe he’s just too real for entertainment.

The Road Dog offers an unrushed exploration of indifference and distaste as seen through Jimmy (played perfectly by comedian Doug Stanhope). His son David (Des Mulrooney) wakes him up one morning; they’ve never met before and this young man wants to be a stand-up comedian. Jimmy goes running towards the toilet vomiting with disgust . Dressed in clean clothes outside the motel in chilly weather, David is exactly opposite of Jimmy who represents hopelessness in character-perpetually angry Wyandancher with obvious drug issues. But he owns a car and his mother’s credit card which means breakfast as well as hauling him off into the next dive.

In Glienna’s low-budget indie, there is a sense of loyalty to the stand-up comedy scene, at least as it exists in real-life below the glitter and glamour of made men. The locations are perfect representations of those seedy nightclubs, terrible bars, strip malls and monotonous landscapes that make up many comedians’ nights. It’s often too suburban to be urban but not rural enough to be called suburbia. Jimmy experiences life in The Road Dog which is blanketed with snow and adorned with dead things.

Much of what they do consists of driving, talking, eating and sleep for Jimmy and David while Jimmy performs almost every evening before drinking himself insensible at the bar. Maybe he gets $500 one night; he will drink about $150 worth of booze. And besides cigarettes what else is he going to spend his money on (apart from beer)? Jimmy has no direction in life. He appears attached to the road as suggested by the title.

This is why some of history’s most mesmerizing performances have come from amateurs or non-actors who’ve never been on film before; because there is a kind of humble beauty to it. Stanhope was not responsible for writing this script yet somehow Stanhope was able to perfectly interpret it. If you haven’t seen his work yet (begin with Beer Hall Putsch), you’re missing out because Jimmy is unforgettable character that would live long in your mind if you get attracted by Stanhope’s standup then The Road Dog will feel like an extension but still like a fiction book through which he comes alive again.

Between father and son, the journey itself loses its way in favour of Stanhope’s showmanship. This film, like its protagonist, is reluctant to spend time establishing a genuine emotional connection, and when it tries to be poignant, instead feels incongruously sentimental. The attempted sobriety and recovery sequence is disastrously rushed; it just falls flat with regard to everything else in the movie.

But that might have been its aim. The Road Dog has a crushing effect on one due to its production design and locations down to its bland editing and awkward reaction shots. It seems almost punk rock in its amateurishness overall, but it definitely has a raw feel of authenticity. This isn’t pretty or dynamic cinema And that’s okay. It’s not an attractive story.

Apart from the nature of that preceding recovery scene though, The Road Dog makes good use of such crudeness in showing the real banality and dirtiness of stand-up as well as the repetitive obduracy of alcoholism. Be they nights or mornings; blackouts or pink clouds: these are some aspects the film is clear about depicting what it means to be a drinker with problems. It ain’t Barfly by any stretch but neither is it Lenny. There was no ambitious attempt at making either a great drinking film or amazing stand-up (or if so, The Road Dog failed).

Instead it offers an incredible insight into character aided by good writing (by Glienna and his co-writer Tony Boswell) and one of this year’s best performances from Stanhope.. Although there are numerous technical filmmaking issues which you may complain about here, if you put aside your complaints then this can become quite mesmerizing given its flat yet mostly melancholic tone Pour yourself a drink and enjoy it!

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