What Are the Lengths to Which You Will Go to Find Happiness?
By Edie Weinstein, MSW
That is an implicit question cleverly peeking out from the storyline of “The Lengths,” which is the first feature-length film co-written and produced by a young filmmaker named Tim Driscoll. Had I seen the trailer for the movie in a theater, I would have been interested in viewing the road trip adventures of ne’er-do-well Charlie, far more responsible but hopelessly love-struck Tom and free spirit mystery woman Hanna. The therapist in me would be attempting to figure out the relationship dynamics and motivations for their behaviors… wait a minute; I am about to do that.
What drew me to this movie is that Tim happens to be the son of college friends, and it was showing at The New Hope Film Festival, held July 25 through Aug.3 in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Excitement mounted for opening night as I waited with bated breath to see what unfolded.
In the opening scenes, Charlie is being rousted from his bed – where he had just had a sexual encounter with one of a series of many random women in his life – by his landlady who is threatening eviction if he doesn’t pay months of back rent. Simultaneously, Tom is at home opening up a wedding invitation from his former girlfriend, Lily, who has scrawled on it “Save me.” Since he is still heartbroken over their breakup, he sees this as a chance to be her knight in shining armor who will rescue her from her own wedding and then sweep her into his arms so they can live happily ever after. The two opportunities collide as Charlie agrees to ferry Tom cross country, even though he knows the history of the relationship and thinks Tom is making a big mistake. He is always up for an adventure, and since he no longer has a place to live, it seems the ideal diversion.
They jump into Charlie’s rusty old van, which looks like it will barely make it to the state line, let alone thousands of miles to their destination. Provisions for the road include Charlie’s stash of pot, which he indulges in every chance he gets along the way. One of the first things I noticed about his attire is that he wears a cocaine spoon around his neck. It gave me a glimpse into the character’s lifestyle, since he seemed not to be able to enjoy life sans substance. It also made me wonder what motivated the two to be friends, since at first glance they seemed to have little in common except a shared history.
After a few days on the road, they encounter Hanna who needs a ride to Phoenix. It occurred to me that, although she doesn’t divulge much about her past, why she needs to get there and what she will do when she arrives, as the movie progresses, she indeed becomes phoenix-like, rising from the ashes of whatever challenges she faced, and taking charge of her life. In many ways, she is the buffer between the two men, as a love triangle forms.
Both men are attracted to her for different reasons, and for Tom, she is somewhat of a distraction as he has growing ambivalence about his former sweetie. He continues to maintain a codependent delusion that Lily will have him back, even though it is evident that it was a markedly dysfunctional relationship.
Substances play a key role in the interactions of the three of them, as there are several scenes in which alcohol is almost another character. When they are sober, there is insightful contemplation of “life, the universe and everything.” The language is a bit raw at times, so be forewarned if you are of a sensitive nature, but it seems reasonable given the mindset of the characters.
Although there is no nice, neat little happy ending, the movie holds out hope that redemption is possible and people are capable of change and choice.
The film won the Indie Spirit Award.