Nobody seems to know where this story comes from. One thing’s for sure, we’ve seen and heard it before. Legendary columnist Pete Hamill put the hopeful tale of a newly released convict traveling on a bus with a couple of college kids in the New York Post in 1971. Tony Orlando and Dawn sang a version of it in their 1973 mega-hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the Old Oak Tree.” Foreign film aficionados may recall a 1977 Japanese comedy-drama called The Yellow Handkerchief.
This newest edition sticks closest to the Japanese film but is fully Americanized, set in Louisiana and telling its warm and gushy story (with allusions to a dark side) in a low-budget manner. The film presents its characters, throws them together, then starts to reveal little pieces of them.
That’s both the good and bad news about this slight movie. It hints that its three disparate protagonists are going to form some sort of whole, while offering only a murky picture.
Brett (William Hurt) has just been released from prison after a six-year stint for manslaughter. Looking lost and lonely, he visits a nearby town for a cup of joe, and somehow meets up with unhappy local gal Martine (Kristen Stewart) and carefree traveler Gordy (Eddie Redmayne).
Brett’s plan: Go south. Martine’s plan: Escape this town. Gordy’s plan: Well, Gordy doesn’t have one. So it’s into Gordy’s car they all hop, heading for New Orleans.
Here’s what we learn about these folks. Sad Brett is haunted by his past. Scraps of it are revealed in flashbacks that start as quick snaps and eventually grow into long sequences, featuring a woman named May (Maria Bello), about whom all we get to know is that she’s unpredictable and loaded with low self-esteem.
But that’s a hell of a lot more than we find out about Brett’s new pals. Scowling Martine has studied ballet (check out her poses and stretches) and might be running away from a boyfriend. Gordy, all eagerness and deer-in-the-headlights eyes, appears to be out for a very long ride, with no thought of looking forward or back.
There’s some trouble with a white-trash couple, a run-in with the cops, a flashback revelation of the manslaughter business and a romance. And there are some very handy coincidences that keep solving everyone’s problems. But that’s about it.
What’s lacking is what makes these people tick and a working balance between current and back stories. Of the film’s low-key performances, Hurt knows what he’s doing, but the two kids, like Hurt’s character, seem lost.