by Benjamín Harguindey
Juan José Jusid is a venerable Argentine filmmaker who made some wonderful cult films in the 70’s and 80’s but only aced the local box office in the late 90’s and early 2000’s with folksy screwball comedies starring TV humorists and “it” couples. Viaje inesperado (“Unexpected Journey”) marks his return following an eight-year hiatus, but the movie is less than opportune.
The movie is ostensibly about bullying, but it’s so inconsistent in the way it treats the subject that the result is both tactless and ineffective. An Argentine engineer, Pablo (Pablo Rago), is recalled from his lofty business in Rio by his ex-wife Ana (Cecilia Dopazo) when their sixteen-year-old son Andrés (Tomás Wicz) starts acting violently in school. Pablo then decides to take his son on a road trip to his hometown of Bolívar to have a much needed heart-to-heart with the troubled teen.
What ensues is a series of clumsy attempts at depicting both the more violent, problematic aspects of the adolescent scene and the budding bond between a teen and his estranged father. Part of the problem is the insistence with which sitcom elements continue to pop into the movie, like the two babes that show up at Pablo’s doorstep for an impromptu orgy, or how every time Andy kisses his crush her angry ex materializes out of thin air. Things tend to escalate very, very quickly in this movie.
The sitcom stuff is at odds with the heavier material. Both father and son swap personal tragedies but whatever dramatic weight they have is undercut by the haphazard filmmaking. Pablo’s is delivered piecemeal for no reason other than milking the pathos. Andy on the other hand delivers his over an extended sequence in which he walks down a hospital hallway clinging to an IV stand, sits down, continues walking, then sits down some more. The material is boring, shot in a dull way, for no reason.
There are too many tearful monologues in this movie, and none of them feel earned. Even Pablo’s childhood friend and one-half of the movie’s beta couple (Andy’s physician provides the other half, maybe) gets one. Where did that come from? To what end?
The actors (the younger ones in particular) are so directionless they seem to be playing different characters from one scene to the next, and the “teen speak” reeks of an older man’s hazy impressions (Jusid shares script credit with two other writers). Slang is clumsily shoehorned every other word. But then dialogue like the one in a movie where characters talk too much about too many things isn’t going to cut it no matter how you dress it.
“Viaje inesperado” fails on every level except the melodramatic. So its intentions are noble – but it cannot phrase them in an intelligent or coherent way. The movie doesn’t know how to balance the comedy with the drama, the vulgar elements with the sober ones. It’s obvious and uninspired where it should be nuanced and daring. For a better, truer, darker version of a coming-of-age story focusing on father and son check out Argentina’s own Temporada de caza (Hunting Season, 2017).
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).