THE STORY – A teenager has to confront the reality of life on the road after tragedy strikes.
THE CAST – Sabrina Carpenter, Steven Ogg, Danny Trejo, Maggie Siff & Rusty Schwimmer
THE TEAM – Ani Simon-Kennedy (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
“The Short History of the Long Road” is one of the most unique coming-of-age films that we’ve seen in the last decade – if for no other reason than that there are no scenes involving a school. It’s writer-director Ani Simon-Kennedy’s second feature-length film and it won the Special Jury Mention for Best Screenplay at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. It features a strong leading performance from Sabrina Carpenter and beautiful cinematography of the western landscape.
Carpenter stars as Nola, a young girl who has lived her whole life on the road with her father, Clint (Steven Ogg). The two are van-dwellers, continually hopping from place to place with Clint doing odd jobs to earn money. He tells Nola, “Humans have been a migratory species since they’ve been on the earth,” but she’s at an age where she’s starting to question their lifestyle. After an accident leaves Nola on her own, she makes her way towards Albuquerque, New Mexico where she befriends several surprising characters.
While it does feature a pool scene (which has somehow become a must-have for coming-of-age films), it stands out from other films of this type. Nola and Clint have a very different way of life than most people: they cut each other’s hair, stop at libraries for Nola to further her learning, and use community showers. When the accident occurs, Nola has to grow up quickly even though she already had an unusual childhood. She’s forced to learn things that she doesn’t know about normal life without much guidance and must also learn about her own origins. There’s also a physical aspect to her journey as she continues trekking across the desert in their van on her own while learning to make her own decisions for the first time.
While Carpenter is known for her role on the Disney Channel show, “Girl Meets World,” her music career, and currently being in the cast of “Mean Girls” on Broadway (pre-quarantine), she’s still a relative newcomer to the film world. She deftly captures the surly teen who asks her dad about the mother she never knew and gives him the silent treatment when she’s cross. The father-daughter pair have great and believable chemistry. Carpenter does a great job of showing how lost Nola is, while still maintaining the fierce spirit she inherited from her father.
Much of the film is about the kind strangers that Nola meets along her journey. If the movie has a fault, it’s perhaps the overly rosy view it has of the world and the people in it as no one really poses a threat to Nola at any point. From foster mom, Marcie (Rusty Schwimmer), to a local mechanic, Miguel (Danny Trejo), people are happy to guide her along the way and extend a helping hand. The most interesting relationship is the tentative friendship forged between Nola and Blue, a girl in Albuquerque played by Oglala Sioux actress Jashaun St. John. Both girls are hesitant to open up but find comfort in their shared issues.
“The Short History of the Long Road” packs a lot into its compact runtime of 94 minutes. Simon-Kennedy keeps the pace flowing so well that you may not realize just how much story is contained in the (relatively short) film until the end. While most coming-of-age movies deal with a character trying to figure out their identity, this one delves into a young girl trying to make her way in the world on her own and figuring out if the lifestyle she grew up with is one that she wants to continue. With a strong performance from Carpenter and a fresh premise, “The Short History of the Long Road” is an exciting offering from an up-and-coming director.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A coming-of-age tale unlike any we’ve seen with a strong leading performance from Sabrina Carpenter.