“Roadkill”, described as the first film in what has been called a loose 3-part trilogy, is a stand-alone story. There are no loose ends that need to be tied up, as the other two, “Highway 61” (1991) and “Hard Core Logo” (1996), are also stand-alones. They are all road trip films directed by Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald that someone decided to lump into a trilogy.
The first thing I noticed about it is that it’s shot in black & white, which immediately sets a tone. Another is that it is very Jim Jarmuschy in its style, which is minimalist, face-to-face, almost documentarian. Roadkill is a road trip movie with a female protagonist, which isn’t real common. It starts in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and quickly moves north, on Kings Highway 69, to stark, yet gorgeous wilderness and small town culture. The story loosely revolves around the protagonist being instructed by her boss, the concert promoter, in finding the band that’s on tour up there and bringing them back as they have been no-shows at a few venues. Nobody knows where they are, so she needs to play detective to find them. She’s motivated and venturesome, so finding her target, the band, is challenging but achievable with her talents.
Bruce McDonald originally conceived the film as a concert film focusing on the band A Neon Rome, but the band’s lead singer, Neal Arbik, was uncooperative during the tour which the planned film was to focus on. Arbik eventually left the music industry before the film could get made as well as before his band’s planned second album could even be recorded. Instead, the film became a fictionalized portrayal of A Neon Rome, depicting a band on the verge of collapsing in a similar manner.
Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar) is the administrative assistant of Roy (Gerry Quigley), the concert promoter based in Toronto. Roy sends Ramona to find the band, The Children of Paradise, somewhere in the small town circuit north of the city. As Ramona doesn’t know how to drive, she plans on busing or training it; however she meets up right away with a “taxi driver to the musical Gods”, Buddie (Larry Hudson), who insists he wants to drive her and make it his mission to find the band as well. It isn’t long before Ramona (and Buddie) encounter memorable characters along the way, including a movie director (Bruce McDonald, who also directs this movie), a Weenie Boy (Shaun Bowring), Russel (Don McKellar) a serial killer who hasn’t killed anyone, and Luke (Mark Tarantino), a sweet kid with a car. In “Roadkill”, as in most road trips, the entertainment lies in these random interactions.
Ramona is the central character here and that’s never in dispute. She handles the lead very well. She’s got the kind of face you want to keep your eyes on. She’s laid back and non-threatening to all she comes across and is the type of person others feel comfortable talking with. She rolls with situations, and that going with the flow gets her where she needs to be. Buddie, the taxi driver, has been around the block a few times and has a plethora of stories to tell, which many get bored by, possibly because they think he’s b.s.-ing. He delightfully finds his audience. Roy, the concert promoter, does a good job of being an arrogant ass. Weenie Boy does well with the role he’s been given; actually better than well, as does Luke. Russel is the most complicated character and is played with the proper ambiguity of a person who has dreamed of something obsessively but has never acted on it. He’s both compelling and repelling.
I liked the black and white of the film. I like small movies that focus on the intimacy of face-to-face dialogue, exploring motivations, the camaraderie of the characters, and the beauty of unexpected moments. I like the ordinariness of, “Road Kill”. OK, now to the title and what it has to do with the movie. As said earlier, Ramona doesn’t drive; but during the film she learns. Roadkill happens, especially when you’re a new driver and you’re driving out in the middle of Canadian wildness. The director, I think, tries to parallel Ramona controlling the vehicles she drives with her control of her life, as evidenced by both her increasing driving skill and the vehicles themselves. He does a weak job of it, but it is there. With the killer soundtrack and the blurb from imdb.com, I think the writer’s and director’s hearts are with the music; unfortunately music – aside from the music of the soundtrack throughout the plot – takes a back seat in, “Road Kill”, much like having the radio playing while driving.
Lessons learned? Sometimes you have to let go of control if you want some adventure in your world. Sometimes people just run out of things to say. Having faith in the kindness of strangers can lead to beautiful experiences.
People who are into the punk music of 1989 would love this film. The soundtrack has quite a lineup: “It’s Saturday Night” by The Razorbacks; “200 More Miles” and “To Love is to Bury” by Cowboy Junkies; “Put the Blame on Me” by Handsome Ned and the Sidewinders; “She Ain’t No Use to Me” by The Ugly Ducklings; “White Lines” by I.T.; “Magic People” by The Paupers; “Street People” by Graeme Kirkland and The Wolves with Julie Massey; “Dead Drunk Johnny” and “Burning Rain” by 10 Seconds Over Tokyo; “Howlin’ At the Moon (Sha La La)” written by Dee Dee Ramone (uncredited) and performed by Ramones (as The Ramones); “Grind” by Sturm Group; “Nostradamus” by Suffer Machine; “Instant Death” by Razor; “We Shall Be the Leaders” and “Roadkill” by Nash the Slash; “Thangst for the Angst” by Luke Koyle; “Have You Seen My Shoes” by Rita Chiareli; “The Singer (The V.O.T.P.)” by Stompin’ Tom Connors; and “Dancing Cadavers” by Teknakullar Records. At least one or two Ramones make cameo appearances as well.
from wiki: Roadkill won the Toronto-City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 1989 Toronto International Film Festival. Don McKellar was also nominated for two 1990 Genie Awards, for Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
People who like small, intimate road trip films will like it. I don’t see an MPAA or any other kind of rating on it; there are zero incidents of sex & nudity, one incident of violence; zero (?) incidences of profanity, some alcohol & smoking, and one frightening & intense scene. My final word on this film is: laid back and entertaining.
Score on a scale of 0-5 = 3.5