Where were you in 2006? Back in the days of flip-phones and Netscape, you probably couldn’t have it much worse than Michael (Ozark’s Charlie Tahan). He’s working as a campus bus driver, ferrying boozed and drugged up students around a freezing Rochester New York, with the attendant vomit-stains and fractured feelings about life that predictably result. But fortunately for us, John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke’s film is a bromance comedy, and one with a big redemptive arc. While set in a recognisably real world, Drunk Bus is a more sophisticated story that a quick survey of the contents might suggest; this is a coming-of-age story that hits right notes in depicting the trials of growing-up.
We may not be able to pick our family, but we can choose our friends; Michael probably wouldn’t have made the burly Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa) top of his list of potential best buddies, but the Samoan is assigned to Michael’s bus when an irate customer steps over the yellow line to give Michael a black eye. Pineapple is a big lad, and has evolved a deck of homespun homilies and wisdoms to impart to Michael, namely ‘None of this actually matters.’ Michael is bound up with his job, his girlfriend in New York, and various other issues; Pineapple’s route one approach to solving problems via head-butting seems deceptively simple in comparison. Can Michael find a way to snap out of his dwam and find true happiness?
The opening half-hour of Drunk Bus is largely set on a bus for of drunks, but this is no Bacchanalian revel in bad behaviour; Michael’s role in getting the kids to their destination is unappreciated, and he’s effectively sidelined as a sad-sack servant, forced to bear the indignities of flying food missiles and other physical threats. Pineapple manages to lead Michael to a transformation of sorts, but also leads the story in a different direction as he introduces Michael to an underbelly of illegal campus life, notably comic Dave Hill in a funny turn as a Devo-obsessed drug dealer. The credits note the film is ‘inspired by real shit’ and for once, the stories featured feel like they’re inspired by real events.
And yes, funny is the right word for this feel-good film, a comedy that should work for the Superbad/Adventureland crowd in terms of depicting bad decisions and amusingly wayward behaviour, but holds an admirable line in terms of maintaining our sympathy for Michael and developing our understanding of his responsibilities. With not one but two killer Star Wars jokes in the script, and many amusing moments in the developing relationship between Michael and Pineapple, Drunk Bus is a minor comic gem and comes recommended to anyone who knows the bitter-sweet comedy/tragedy of everyday campus life. My experience was largely in Albany rather than Rochester, but I can vouch for the details shown here as being accurate ie it always feels like there’s a party going on somewhere, yet it can feel pretty cold if you’re stuck outside.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Drunk Bus in the UK on Digital Download from 24 May 2021.
Thanks to Witchfinder for advanced access to this title.