Doug Stanhope is “The Road Dog” in Greg Glienna’s Salute to Stand-Up.
“Road Dog” is an idiomatic expression used between friends and Doug Stanhope‘s stand-up comedian Jimmy Quinn is a certified road dog. Spending most of his time traveling, he performs his comedy routine in small clubs scattered along the Northern Rockies. Then, unexpectedly, his son David arrives.
Writer-Director Greg Glienna’s lovely new feature “The Road Dog” is in the great tradition of the American (and European) road movie, only this time with a father and a son combo! The road movie genre dates to at least the thirties and forties with such classic titles as Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” (1934), Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) and Edgar G. Ulmer “Detour” (1945). It blossomed again in the seventies and eighties with Wim Wenders ‘”Kings of the Road” (1976) and “Paris Texas” (1984), two superb movies starring Jack Nicholson namely Bob Rafelson’s “Five Easy Pieces’ (1970) and Hal Ashby’s “The Last Detail” (1973), Peter Bogdanovich’s Ryan and Tatum O’Neill vehicle “Paper Moon” (1973) and, more recently, Gregg Araki’s “The Living End” from 1992. Great road movies with a father-and-son combo are more difficult to come by, with John Hillcoat’s adaptation Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian post-apocalyptic “The Road” (2009) being the only one that this viewer can think of off the bat! Despite the cannibalistic horrors surrounding them, there is palpable love between the man (Viggo Mortensen) and the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in this very underrated movie.
“The Road Dog” shares this deep connection between father and son and the unhurried approach favored by director Gliennna (who cowrote the screenplay with Tony Boswell) allows their relationship to blossom naturally.
Doug Stanhope is Jimmy Quinn, an alcoholic standup comedian and certified road dog, who gets a second chance in life when he connects with the son he has never known (newcomer Des Mulrooney). Jimmy never achieved the success that he seemed destined for in his early days, but he still maintains a loyal following in the small bars and clubs that are scattered along the Northern Rockies (Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado are mentioned). Glienna never shows us much of Jimmy’s routine which always begins with something like “My name is Jimmy Quinn, and I am an… In other words, a riff from the Dean Martin songbook. Then, unexpectedly, his son David arrives. When this happened, I experienced an unwelcome case of Deja vu since, only last year, we savored director Clint Bentley’s lovely film “Jockey” in which Clifton Collins Jr. and Moises Arias played the reunited father and son, the perfect jockey combo!
I should not have worried, however. Mulrooney has his own charm, and he holds his own in every scene with Stanhope. It also transpires that Mulrooney’s character David wants to follow his dad into the stand-up comedy profession. Self-deprecating to a fault, but genuinely so, David is eventually persuaded to do his own routine at one of Jimmy’s venues and he nails it (kudos to Glienna here – the spot is both authentic and funny).
Unfortunately, David’s success raises the little green monster in Jimmy and gradually we see what we had not seen before; that Jimmy is a prima donna who ruined his chances at stardom by refusing to appear on television and being hopelessly inflexible in general. This character defect is obviously a companion piece to his alcoholism and by this stage of the movie, when Jimmy and David spend some time with Laura (Khrystyne Haje) an old flame of Jimmy’s, it is obvious that Jimmy is slowly dying of cirrhosis of the liver.
This leads to the film’s seminal scene. Persuaded by David and Laura to give up the booze, Jimmy gives his first sober stand-up routine in decades. I won’t spoil the outcome but, the scene, which must have been extraordinarily difficult to play, is a triumph for Stanhope. A miniature masterpiece of great acting.
Mr. Glienna who is the creator of the original 1992 film “Meet the Parents” and is also an exceptionally talented pianist, singer, and songwriter, has a way with actors. In addition to Stanhope, Mulrooney and Haje, there is a beauty of a performance by Greg Fitzimmons as Mikey, an old-time stand-up comedian who lives in a world of nostalgia, in a past where everything was perfect. Kudos too, to cinematographer Erik Bjella and composer Dori Amarilio who delivers a nice Mark Isham-influenced trumpet-based score.
‘The Road Dog” has not yet obtained a distributor so check this space for further screenings.