Weekend Trip to North Dakota was a production in seven acts, beginning with Stand-by Plane Trip from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, followed by 7-hour Automobile Journey from Minneapolis to Langdon, ND. Immediately after the Automobile Journey was Scott and April's Wedding and the Langdon Motor Inn, followed by 3-hour Scenic Drive to Minot, ND, a Night at the Netts' with Special Guests Barkley and Julie, 8-hour Prairie Cruise from Minot to Minneapolis, and, finally, Flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, Stand-by. While any of these acts might merit its own review, for sake of space (and considering the severe ADHD-type attention span of our average reader), I've consolidated the entire production in one review.
Frankly, plot was tremendously weak and meandering. While essentially this was a fairly standard road-trip story, the objective of the journey was unclear, and seemed to change halfway through. On top of this, the travel itself, generally fraught with danger, excitement or comic mishap in a standard road-trip scenario, was simply travel. Long, mostly silent car trips across vast flat expanses of prairie dominated, occasionally broken up by slightly more interesting road construction. At one point in the Automobile Journey section, things began to look promising as the main characters, Shannon and David, began to sing along with the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack, but that quickly got old when it appeared they'd be singing along with the entire soundtrack, start to finish, as well as a "Barenaked Ladies" album and the soundtrack to the Big Chill (a "Monkees' Greatest Hits" sing-along was thankfully thwarted when David suddenly realized that most of their songs sucked ass). A car chase or a street fight or even, frankly, a little simple dialogue might have been nice in these long stretches.
Where the plot was lacking, a great variety of characters filled the story, and nearly all were well-rounded and thoroughly thought-out. The main characters (Shannon and David) were thoughtfully crafted, deeply intelligent, like-able, sensitive and interesting. Major supporting characters (Scott, April, Mike, Gloria, Linda, Craig & Chris) were equally compelling, and prominent featured characters (Tim, Jess, Gary, Jim, Virginia, Julie, Barkley and others) had an extraordinary amount of back- story and depth. While many of the characters in the "Wedding" section were clearly exaggerated stereotypes and not remotely realistic, they were still 3-dimensional, and then some. Highlights included a Drunken Bridesmaid who disappeared the evening prior to the ceremony, a staid, stoic, 50-year-old Classic Farmer dancing with abandon to Tupak, and Wrath-of-God Minister whose wedding messages of love and compassion were balanced by screaming matches with the bridal party.
Acting, for the most part, was truthful, honest, and amazingly natural. While these people aren't at the level of Kate Blanchett (you must see her in the Man Who Cried) or Steven Segal, they were excellent utility actors, all. Exceptions occurred only during the "Wedding" portion when two of the central characters seemed to forget their lines entirely and had to be prompted by the Minister, later during "Wedding" when the Ridiculously Drunk Uncle completely overdid the slurred-speech, picking fights and falling-down bits, and during Prairie Cruise, when central character David drove in complete silence for three straight hours with the same "perhaps I have to fart" look on his face the entire time.
While Carcinogen Exposure throughout was generally low (frequent low- risk gas-pumping non-withstanding), the Wedding section more than made up for the lack of long-term exposure to cancer causing agents in the rest of the story. Indeed, the entirety of this portion was blanketed in a cloud of cigarette smoke, from the hotel rooms (only two were non- smoking, and that distinction was completely relative, since the maid service smoked in the rooms while cleaning) to the restaurants (which did not have separate smoking sections, ostensibly since no one in the town, including infants and toddlers, did not smoke), to the Langdon Country Club, all of the main characters, mostly involuntarily, inhaled enough lung-clogging tar to satisfy the expectations of any hard-core cancer fan.
Dead Animal Carcasses:
Though actual action and excitement in the road-trip sections was decidedly lacking, evidence of off-camera incident was everywhere. A half-dozen deer carcasses, well over 30 recently-passed raccoons and a handful of birds, squirrels and other friendly forest creatures littered the roadways traversed by Shannon and David. Determined not to limit furry dead things to the roadways, the writers saw fit to let an otherwise cuddly, friendly housecat drag a dead baby bunny into a house mere moments before breakfast in the Netts section. Perhaps death was the central theme of this overlong, meandering trip. This reviewer is at a loss to explain it otherwise.
Costuming was tremendously well-thought-out for a handful of the central characters (Shannon, for instance, appeared to be wearing a different pair of shoes every time her mood changed, reflecting the subtleties of her personality), most characters, including David, appeared to wear the exact same clothes in every scene, with only slight color variations. The Wedding portion was somewhat an exception, but even that was relatively uninspired, with rental tuxedos and four-year-old "the Limited" fashions dominating.
Overall, while the story lacked true direction and had some definite shortcomings, the central characters deeply charismatic and compelling, and the story oddly restful and relaxing. Peppered throughout were some nice heartfelt family moments, which brought a warm, fuzzy flavor to much of the piece. I wouldn't recommend this too often, but it may be a nice change of pace once or twice a year.
|Dead Animal Carcasses|