In this heartwarming comedy, minor leaguer Carlton Garrett (Justin Timberlake) takes an unexpected road trip to track down his estranged father, legendary baseball player Kyle Garrett (Jeff Bridges) when Carlton's mother (Mary Steenburgen) becomes sick. Knowing his charming yet painfully immature dad's likelihood to disappoint, Carlton enlists his on-again-off-again girlfriend Lucy (Kate Mara) for emotional support. Once reunited, Carlton struggles to deal with the series of misadventures caused by his father's antics, including missed flights, car trouble and bathroom brawls. Years of miscommunication, frustration and comically awkward attempts at bonding come to a head as the mismatched trio make their way from Ohio back home to Houston to reunite the family.
Jeff Bridges excels at playing grizzled, somewhat compromised men who have a variety of things to be embarrassed about. Thus he's apt casting for The Open Road
, a father-son picture that puts its estranged duo on a road trip in the Midwest. Bridges plays a former big-league ballplayer, now contentedly boozing through his golden years signing things at card shows and telling anecdotes in bars. Justin Timberlake plays the son, a joyless baseball player who's worried about his mother (Mary Steenburgen), due for a tricky operation and demanding to see her ex-husband. When son travels to fetch his errant father, Dad agrees to come--but getting him across half the country is another story. This brings up one of the problems of the modern road movie: with modern convenience being what it is, how do you convincingly force people into a car together for a few days? Writer-director Michael Meredith contrives a few reasons, and if you're won over by the movie's amiable tone and the laid-back acting, maybe you'll go along with it. Timberlake, a capable actor in other circumstances (Alpha Dog
, for instance), struggles with the first-person role here; he doesn't add a great deal of seasoning to the mix. Kate Mara brings her usual equilibrium to a hard-to-justify role as Timberlake's ex-girlfriend/best pal, who tags along on the road trip for complicated, not entirely credible reasons. Nice people like Harry Dean Stanton and Lyle Lovett pop up in small parts, and roadside motels and cornfields add flavor. But it's up to Jeff Bridges to generate the reasons for sticking with this one, and he comes through with a shrewd portrait of a guy who'd really like to be somewhere else--someplace where they don't hold you accountable for things. As for director Meredith, he's the son of Don Meredith, longtime Dallas Cowboys star and broadcaster. Any similarities between "Dandy Don" and Jeff Bridges's character are surely unavoidable. --Robert Horton Stills from The Open Road (Click for larger image)