Disclaimer: This film was previewed before the intended premiere and cancellation of SXSW 2020.

Coming-of-age films are far from new. Televisions and cinemas find themselves flooded, their messages of transition and change creating a sea of emotions. Yet while some find success, the over-saturation can cause others to sink. Those that float above the rest are those films willing to push the envelope, presenting their story away from the status quo – finding new representations, inclusions and perspectives. Where 2019 brought audiences Booksmart, 2020 brings the edgy and heartwarming Drunk Bus. Drunk Bus is edgy and heartwarming, bringing powerful performances and an even stronger message to this coming-of-age film – and one of the must-see films of 2020.

Drunk Bus not only looks to break the monotony for its central character Michael (or “Fuckchop” as his boss refers to him), but it looks to break the monotony of the genre. While I was attracted to the film due to its lead actor Charlie Tahan (whom audiences will recognize as Scarecrow from Gotham), the film transcends the actor’s recognition, others shining just as bright, with the film’s message taking center stage. With a film about finding yourself, I truly hope this film finds you.

A Plotted Course

Drunk Bus opens on a typical night for Michael, his daily campus loop underway, the bus he drives a late-night passage for all wakes of life the campus has to offer. The raggedy bus immediately mirrors the patrons it regularly transports. Clearly abused and provided minimal upkeep, the late-night shuttle seems as much the bottom of the barrel as Michael’s future prospects. Having already graduated, Michael continues to transport students, the job the highest paying on campus and a means for him to maintain the hope his ex-girlfriend will return to him.

source: SXSW

After becoming the subject of an assault one night, Michael finds the company providing him a security detail to ride along with him to ensure his safety. Reluctant at first, Michael begins to embrace Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), whose way of looking at the world and the choices that are only ours begin to influence those around him – even Michael. As Michael faces a future career in the school’s campus transportation, Michael comes to a crossroads in his life – a moment of decision that will have lasting effects on his future.

Takes more than one to drive this bus…

There is so much that goes right in Drunk Bus. From score to casting, from script to cinematography, from set design to execution – everything works perfectly. There is a raw perspective brought to Drunk Bus, stripping the film of the feel-good moments and replacing them with real life. Tension and frustration build in Michael, his perspective changing while the world around him stays the same, looping one day after another. Writer Chris Molinaro‘s tight script, directors John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke create the perfect atmosphere and setting for Tahan to exemplify these feelings.

Charlie Tahan was the perfect casting for Michael. His character is the awkward kid, never too sure of himself to begin with, unable to make decisions and break the loop he has found himself in – both literally and metaphorically. Tahan exemplifies the awkwardness with perfection – the awkwardness of his role in Gotham apparent, yet here vulnerable rather than villainous. There is an accuracy to the emotions and nonverbal behaviors he delivers, and I am intrigued to see where his career will take him next.

source: SXSW

The star of Drunk Bus, however, is Pineapple Tangaroa as Pineapple. I honestly could not get enough of this character or of this actor. Tangaroa makes his character instantly likable. Pineapple is confident, vivacious, eccentric and big-hearted, and Tangaroa exemplifies each of these characteristics with ease. Never falling out of character, there is a truthfulness to his performance, a lighthearted nature that will uplift audiences, and shines exceptionally bright within the setting he is placed in.

Rome wasn’t Built in a day….

What is important to take away from Drunk Bus is not just that the message that change is possible. While this message is exemplified throughout, what is most important is the message change is a process. We can not change overnight, just “be” different. We need to start somewhere. We need to take the necessary steps if we are to succeed. As Michael begins to slowly break free from the life he has trapped himself in, it is gradual. He does not launch into the tasks that Pineapple charges him with. He absorbs, digesting the suggestions and reasonings behind his requests.

While it is in the constraints of a film here, Drunk Bus successfully tackles this concept, breaking it down not necessary in time, but through interactions. Every individual within the film vital to the process of change for Michael does not simply come and go. Each returns in his life, each a catalyst for change, pushing his progression further. Each represents an aspect of life we all meet time and time again, each time presenting us with the chance to change our perspectives – each a fork in the road.

source: SXSW

Conclusion: Drunk Bus

I found a kindred soul in Michael, the inability to break free, to take the risk. When you are comparing certainty to the unknown, it is easier to contend with the monotony, to stay where you are and avoid as little change as possible. Yet, change finds us all, and not once but several times throughout life. There is always an opportunity for change, we just need to take the first step forward – the rest will follow.

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