‘Around the Bend’ a charming journey

    Jordan Roberts advises aspiring writers to “tell the truth.” His directorial debut “Around the Bend” is based on his own relationship with an absentee father. It took Roberts 30 drafts to write a version of the screenplay that he felt “comfortable with,” in addition to being a personal story that he felt is “emotionally authentic for the characters [he] was writing about.”

    These characters are fathers and sons. Henry Lair, masterfully characterized by Michael Caine as the rambunctious driving force and patriarch of the family, is an archaeologist who has a passion for digging, yet refuses to be buried. Christopher Walken is the perfect choice to play Turner, the absentee father who suddenly turns up after 30 years, and disturbs the benign existence of his son Jason (Josh Lucas).

    After Turner’s arrival, Henry plots to reconcile his family by sending them off on a trip from Los Lunas, N.M., to Albuquerque, N.M., to scatter his own and his dog’s ashes after they are deceased. Coincidentally, Henry and his dog die soon after Henry finishes writing the last set of instructions and the grieving three generations of men, Turner, Jason and Jason’s son Zack (Jonah Bobo), set out with a pair of urns to fulfill Henry’s request.

    What happens next is exceptional. The journey across the Southwest weighs heavily on Turner and Jason, and the deeper they dig into the past (while traveling in an old Volkswagen appropriately named “Dig”), the more they discover that they are both partially incomplete because of their separation.

    The tragic secrets and present tribulations that put a strain on the father and son are portrayed in a witty manner that keeps the film light and at times funny. Several uneasy scenes occur when the traveling threesome is forced to eat “family” dinners at Kentucky Fried Chicken establishments — as is mandated by Henry’s careful memos — despite the fact that Jason hates chicken and that Turner is vegetarian. Although the setup is humorous, these dinners provide a viable, though awkward, link within the family.

    The incredible journey is made possible by the skilled cast. As usual, Walken is enigmatic and infuses each moment with just the right hint of suppressed guilt, regret and compassion. With understated purpose, Lucas portrays a normal, somewhat uptight banker genuinely uncomfortable with his circumstances. Bobo acts with a natural energy; his character Zack forces the two adults to work through their grievances by innocently asking the right questions.

    Expect to be charmed by the understated performances, peaceful desert landscape, and strong true-to-life depiction of the enormous future impact of past mistakes.

    For Roberts, the film is a heartfelt endeavor. Despite a small budget, lack of time and hard-to-train dogs, “Around the Bend” satisfied its director’s desires, and will satisfy those of its audience as well.

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