Don’t Know Yet (2013)
James Kyson, Lisa Goldstein Kirsch. Written and directed by James Linehan.
A guy in a car pulls over where a hitchhiker is standing on the roadside.
“Where are you going?” asks the hitchhiker.
“Uh, where are YOU going?” ask the driver.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you?”
“Are there rules to hitchhiking?”
It turns out there are, but not very many, at least for this driver named Taylor (portrayed by James Kyson). Taylor doesn’t know it at this moment, but this hitchhiker is the first in a long series of people needing a lift somewhere, and he’s happy to take them as far as they need to go in a cross-country Forrest-Gump-like journey away from the house he once shared with his fiance.
When he runs low on money, Taylor gets a cheap lunch in a diner, where he meets a very friendly, very pretty manager who gives him a job and then takes him to her house. Taylor is exceedingly friendly to the strangers he picks up, and other strangers he meets along the way are exceedingly friendly to him in a world that seems absent any threat to safety or well-being.
The people Taylor gives rides to all have different stories, some of them on their way to something, others on their way away from something, and still others not really sure whether they’re coming or going. Taylor gives transportation and friendship to them all, and in return they seem to offer some kind of gradual healing of the ailment that keeps Taylor behind the wheel. In one excellently conceived montage, we see Taylor from in front of the vehicle, driving on long stretches of road, a different passenger riding shotgun in each clip, a different hand-lettered cardboard sign resting upon the dashboard and visible through the windshield. Beyond “Minneapolis or Bust!” sentiments, they seem to act almost as subtitles for the thoughts in Taylor’s head as he listens to each story, his foot always on the pedal.
One day, a woman named Autumn (played by Lisa Goldstein Kirsch) slides into the passenger seat. She’s going to the East Coast, but she soon makes Taylor’s mission her own, the two of them stopping for hitchhikers, Autumn’s eventual destination apparently not pressing. They share a tent at night, stopping at campgrounds or wherever they find a good spot, and Taylor sees something inspiring in Autumn’s free spirit. They gaze at waterfalls together, watch in wonder as eagles circle high above them, make up songs as their campfires fling embers into the night.
There’s nothing new about the get-behind-the-wheel-and-just-go conceit Don’t Know Yet employs, but I’m willing to overlook what should be a tired device because I admit I still find the idea to be laced with romance. When you spend your whole life on an island, as I have, the very thought of driving in a straight line for more than an hour is simply mind-blowing. Where I come from, you can drive all day and all night if you want to, but you’ll find yourself right back where you began, a possibility that seems to defeat the purpose of soul-searching adventurers like Taylor and the many movie characters who’ve done it before him.
I’m less forgiving of the plot element that introduces a free-spirited, pretty woman (for she is always pretty in these things) who shows our protagonist a new way of looking at everything. While Taylor’s long, aimless drive seems to be a metaphor for something, Autumn’s very life seems to be the reality the metaphor suggests. It’s kind of a neat idea but you can’t help wishing Taylor could find some other way to climb out of the darkness and into something meaningful and new.
Before Taylor meets Autumn, most of the people he picks up are just normal people needing a lift, people you might meet in any town at any place you might be likely to hang out. I really like this approach, and wish the film’s writer-director James Linehan had stuck with it, but with Autumn riding along, the passengers become less ordinary, and for fifteen to twenty minutes, the movie takes on the tone of a Charles Kurault anthology, a decision that feels horribly misguided.
My feelings through the first two thirds of the film were mixed: while part of me kept saying, “not this again,” another part couldn’t help responding in a positive way to these characters. Taylor is brooding and mostly quiet, but he’s a nice, friendly guy, the kind of guy others seem to have an easy time getting along with. His utterances are short and direct, but never brusque or dismissive. He’s just a guy who says what he has to say without wasting words or time. And he has a way of bringing out the the good, honest stuff in others. And if Autumn were your friend, you’d probably find a lot of her hipster new-ageism annoying at times, but you’d happily put up with it because the person spouting it is just so darned nice.
But there is a moment that forces you to look at Taylor’s journey differently, to rethink the judgments you’ve made about his wandering and his interactions with others, and although the moment feels kind of unreal, it’s not difficult to find yourself rooting for Taylor and hoping things work out well.
For this reason, despite a cheap, easy, post-resolution fadeout that had me thinking of twenty other movies and begging for the rolling of the credits, I really do like Don’t Know Yet and recommend it for good acting, well-conceived characters, and some admirable technical ideas.
7/10 (for good acting, likeable characters, and neat editing)