JOY RIDE (2021)

(Cinemas/VOD) Sorry, I’m yet again putting the pause on horror posts. I simply loved this film — as you can probably tell by the wall of text — and wanted to boost it.

I’m always reluctant to post about films that folks can’t see — after all, I started these missives to suggest interesting works one could safely watch at home during the pandemic (which, duh, still isn’t over). That’s growing increasingly hard as Chicago’s film programmers and filmmakers have been working overtime to (safely) bring people back to theaters, including folks like Joe Swanberg — I’ll be talking about his contributions next week — and, of course, the Music Box, and they’re often able to bring in directors for screenings of their latest films that the directors have never seen with an audience.

This was the case for Bobcat Goldthwait’s JOY RIDE which, unfortunately, really isn’t available to publicly view yet. (I just slotted in VOD because it’ll be available that way eventually.) I attended the Chicago premiere tonight at the Music Box and director Goldthwait was there, as well as his dear friend and co-star Dana Gould.

I know most people only know Bobcat Goldthwait from the POLICE ACADEMY series, which is a shame because he took a quality left turn with his career and decided to start writing and directing weird little works, including GOD BLESS AMERICA, SLEEPING DOGS LIE, WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (starring his old friend Robin Williams). They’re all darkly comic and satirical pieces, but imbued with a sensitivity and humanity that’s often lacking in satire. Plus, he’s become a veteren director of comedy specials, and directed his own genre TV show MISFITS & MONSTERS. To top it off: he’s friends with Dana Gould.

I realize Dana Gould isn’t a household name, but he’s been involved with so many legendary comedic works over the years. He wrote more than a few THE SIMPSONS episodes; he’s penned for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE; he was a performer on THE BEN STILLER SHOW; he did voice acting for Nicktoons’ DOUG — the list goes on-and-on. I caught the ensemble reading of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE that he wrangled via this year’s streaming-and-cable-only TCM FEST 2021. While I was reading GLAMOUR GHOUL – THE PASSIONS AND PAIN OF THE REAL VAMPIRA, MAILA NURMI, I discovered that he was a good friend to Maila, and helped keep her alive and healthy many times.

With that out of the way, I can finally summarize the film: it’s two extraordinarily funny men taking a road trip, taking their show on the road, mostly reflecting and riffing on their lives and their friendship, both in the car to each other, and to an audience. It’s a fantastic take on a comedy special, and one that is both darkly hilarious, heart-warming, and emotional. It showcases these two men, one of which — Bobcat — has been an absolute asshole to many people and audiences in the past, and even to Dana — and Dana who has been a prickly, difficult person, but has also changed a great deal. They ruminate on their lives and you can hear and see in the way they act towards each other that they’ve learned and healed so much over time. That kind of raw male unburdening is rare to see on-screen.

Also: JOY RIDE is absolutely hilarious. The two of them are consummate storytellers, but they also love to work off of each other and egg each other on, and the editing is pitch-perfect. The film killed at the Music Box, absolutely killed. I’m an easy laugher, but the best works bring me to a rolling boil, and JOY RIDE managed to pace itself so exceptionally — even with the emotional moments — that by the end I was a giggly mess.

As mentioned in the preamble, this was Bobcat’s first time watching the film with an audience. Not to brag — well, maybe just a little — but Goldthwait (a new Chicago denizen) was sitting directly across the aisle from me in the theater, close enough to tap on the shoulder. I’d sneak a few looks at him from time-to-time, just to see how he was reacting because I was curious, and he was laughing a lot — well, as much as you could tell when everyone’s masked.

When Bobcat and Dana stepped onto the stage to discuss the film, Bobcat talked about how emotional it was sitting there watching the film, hearing everyone’s laughter, and how he loved laughing at his friend’s jokes. It was a sincere, pure moment. We’re all healing as we (hopefully) come to the end of this awful era, and seeing JOY RIDE under these circumstances was such an immensely enjoyable time, and I’m so happy I could see it with such giving artists.