From its opening scenes, when the titular bus reveals an ad on its side that reads “Ignite Your Future,” and when a drunk college girl defecates most foul on board, Drunk Bus is in absolute comfort at bringing on the heavy familiar notes of youth in crisis and the raunchiness of college “life.” For driver Michael, a young man stuck in a self-stated and self-imposed “time loop,” where everyday night is exactly the same, right down the street lights, this “living” is more or less neither here nor there - it just is. Is it a long-form waiting game, angrily staying still for an ex that just won’t show? Is it punishment for something he didn’t do or offer? In Drunk Bus, the answer is all of the above. FML for this guy.
The film’s online description suggests influences from the director’s past experiences, making what happens all the more interesting and dynamic but, even without knowing of its personal attachments, it remains very engaging. Michael, as played by Charlie Tahan, is the proto-every guy, performed with a striking balance of pathetic sadness and tragic moments of shining vulnerability. His role is a tightrope between two evenly aligned traits, but Tahan is game, tapping into our anti-nostalgia for those anxious days of blossoming maturity. Without his commitment to the exhausted protagonist in all of us, we’d be left with paint by numbers. This is a film of two strong personalities, facing down the all too familiar - in story and in production - with courageous fire.
Alternatively on-screen is Michael’s new bus security Pineapple, a punk-ish Samoan with face tattoos and a beaming attitude of intense positivity through aggressive action and intimidation. He’s the ultimate exposure therapy friend, rivaled only by Ferris Bueler himself, but this time played by a man really known as Pineapple. He’s kind and understanding if in our collective faces and rough around the edges. He’s exactly the kick in the ass that Michael needs, spouting off inspirational quotes from Dwayne Johnson and spinning details of a mysterious backstory that only perpetuates his legendary status. I don’t doubt that this man is playing a part in a movie, but conversely, I do doubt that this isn’t a part for him. It’s just him. And that’s amazing, to inflict true reality onto a semi-fictional character. Cross the streams.
Never to drag and never to lose itself in too much style, Drunk Bus is near tour de force if not fully fulfilled in that sense. It’s a tight and clever story, elevated by the charms of the two main players, and the clash between what has been told before and what is left to say. The film has much to say and express, but fails to head but us with it all. Things flow and roll pretty naturally, breathing fresh air into the almost adulthood coming of age tale. The environment is the same, but the land is scaped differently. Subtle? Not always, but it’s in the right places.
Dare I suggest that Drunk Bus is touching? Effective for sure, but emotionally resonant? And is there harm in admitting this? Yes, yes, and… maybe, but that’s alright. Pineapple would not only approve, but make a demand of it. He’s the most progressive bear of a man I’ve witnessed on this side of the Earth in a long while. If I’m Michael, I’m as terrified as I’m am invigorated and refreshed. That time loop is unforgiving, but having someone in your corner helps, especially when it’s yourself. 4/5