The movie I’m talking about this week is one of those rare little gems you come across every once in a while thanks simply to luck. My girlfriend and I were perusing the previously viewed section at a local video store when she came across something called “The Lucky Ones.” It’s a 2008 release that stars Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Pena, and is about three soldiers, all complete strangers, on leave from the Iraq War who end up going on a road trip together. It sounded interesting to my girlfriend, and I read the back of the DVD and it sounded interesting to me, too, despite the fact that the description used phrases like “poignant journey of self-discovery” (yuck), and “gripping film” (yawn). I think what eventually sold me on wanting to watch it was the fact that Robbins, McAdams and Pena (whom you all know from “Crash” and “World Trade Center”) were going to be in a road trip movie together. It intrigued me out of sheer curiosity alone, because who in their right mind is going to put those three in a car together and base an entire movie on it? Well, somebody with a righter mind than most, I guess, because it was great.
The three main characters all meet each other for the first time on an airplane headed back to the States from Iraq. They’re all happy to be on leave, and each has their own things to accomplish during their time off. Their plane lands during the middle of a blackout, causing all of their connecting flights to be cancelled. There’s no telling how long they’d be waiting there, so once Robbins’ character opts to rent a car and drive the fourteen hours it’d take to get to St. Louis, the other two decide to go with him and fly out of the airport there instead. Well, people, come on now, you’ve all seen road trip movies, and the universal rule about them all is that nothing goes according to plan. I’d say the least of one of their many obstacles is the fact that they’ve all been gone for over a year, so coming back to America is a readjustment. Nightmares, television shows, and people. Some of whom are supportive, while others seem to have no respect at all.
The casting is what really makes it, though, and it truly is inspired. It reminds me of Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale and Patricia Clarkson from “The Station Agent” in that they’re three actors who wouldn’t seem like they’d be a good fit for each other, and end up being perfect together. Right off the bat the three characters in “Lucky Ones” discover they don’t have much in common outside of being soldiers, which takes me back to my previous question of why these particular actors were cast — and that’s the answer. It’s the fact that they’re not three actors you would naturally think of to all be leads together that makes the story work.
Overall, I’d have to say this movie is a drama, but don’t mistake that for meaning it doesn’t have its funny moments. Despite the heavy material it deals with, it has some extremely funny moments, and I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions. I swear this movie will make you religious, because there are several scenes where you’ll exclaim, “Holy Lord” (or something along those lines), because it throws so many different things at you that that’s about all you can say. It’s almost as if the writers asked themselves what else could they toss at these characters, and then threw in the first thing that came to mind, no matter how out there it was. I’m pretty sure, though, that they could’ve written in a fire-breathing dragon and I still would’ve been okay with it, simply because the cast would’ve grounded it for me. Yeah, they’re fire-breathing dragon good. And that’s saying a lot.
Before I go, I feel I need to mention something about the “story behind the story,” which would be the Iraq War. Anytime someone hears that they feel they need to get defensive and pick a political party to stand behind and defend- whatever. Don’t go into this movie thinking you need to do that, because you don’t. It’s not a preachy movie, and it doesn’t make you feel bad for thinking any one way about the war. All it asks is that you respect what the men and women are over there doing, not whether or not they agree with its politics, but simply that they’re there. Bottom line, this movie has the backdrop of war, but it’s not a war movie, it’s simply a movie about three strangers who go on a crazy road trip together and experience some things that are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and overall enjoyable.
Joe Altomere is a freelance movie writer for The Banner and some of our company’s Web sites. His column is published in The Banner each Saturday. Movies mentioned are typically available to rent from various businesses.