In this sharing economy, people seem to operate as if everyone could be trusted. That’s how many college students start out: They want to treat the dorm as one big happy family and as they move out into a big city like Los Angeles, why not just call someone who has a good rating to your door because the Internet says he’s cool. Two world premiere movies at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2018, provide cautionary tales: “Ride” and “American Dreamer.”
In “Ride,” clean-cut James (Jessie T. Usher) dresses up more formally than one’s used to in Los Angeles. In a medium blue-gray suit, with a slightly darker, narrow tie and starched white shirt, he looks someone working hard to be trusted as he picks up rideshare fares in “Ride.” His first Ryde fare is a fair damsel with that casual hip torn jeans vibe: Jessica. Bared midriff and tight jeans, she (Bella Thorne) is obviously on the prowl and invites James for a drink at the bar, but he has another fare, one that cancels before he gets there. But then he picks up Bruno A. (Will Brill), a man muddled over a recent break up and wanting to ride aimlessly around Los Angeles. While the Ryde app automatically punctuates the conversation every 15 minutes asking for a location, they wander. You’ll recognize Canter’s because everyone in Los Angeles should try a late night there.
Bruno finds out James is an actor and though he asks for Richard III (that’s the dude with a bent back and hell-bent ambition), James doesn’t know the famous monologue from Richard III because Richard II is more his man. And James recites the monologue about the Hollow Crown. That might tell you a bit about these men. Richard III marries out of ambition. Death and destruction are his wedding gifts; he’s one of Shakespeare’s most famous villains. Richard II was a child king who grew up and was deposed by Henry IV (Bolingbroke). Historians believe this Richard starved to death at 33 while imprisoned. James wants to perform Richard II before he dies and that wish will turn from a dream to a nightmare.
Bruno has a gun and the torn jeans gal will return for a frightful night. James will prove himself a gentleman, but sometimes doing the right thing means a prolonged confrontation with the wrong people. Director/writer Jeremy Ungar strikes the right balance between friendly and slick-salesman fake soft-sell with Brill’s Bruno. As Bruno descends into hopeless fatalism, Thorne’s Jessica and Usher’s James still shine with a decency that ties them together, a bit of selflessness that has the troubling effect of making you wish they were more selfish and making you ashamed that you do.
The moral here might be: Don’t break the barrier between hired help and contractor although the breaking of that barrier is what allows James to kindle a hopeful romance with Jessica, leaving you with a troubling conundrum.
The driver in “American Dreamer” is someone who has lost the American dream of a house, a family and a white collar job. Cam (played by comedian Jim Gaffigan) is divorced and behind on his child support payments. His wife (Tammy Blanchard) has a restraining order against him and has him arrested when he drops by because all of his visits require court-ordered supervision. Unlike James, he does not attempt to dress for success. He dresses to depress. When he’s not driving for the ride-share service Hail, he’s chauffeuring around a small-time drug dealer Mazz (Robbie Jones).
Mazz is a gun-toting man with a girlfriend Marina (Isabel Arraiza) and a baby. Cam may be the closest thing Mazz has to a friend because Mazz threatens his workers and Marina is having an affair with Mazz’s supposed best bud. That doesn’t come out until Mazz goes crazy when Cam decides to kidnap the baby and hold it for ransom, One the deed is done, Cam bungles it horribly and then is forced to drive Mazz and Marina around as Mazz seeks out the culprit, coming uncomfortably close and forcing out uncomfortable truths. It is a blood bath and there are no heroes here.
The name of this movie might be confusing. There’s already a 1971 “The American Dreamer” and the 1984 “American Dreamer.” “American Dreamer” is about a housewife (JoBeth Williams) who wins a trip to Paris and then, after a bump on the head, mistakenly believes she’s a fictional character from one of her own stories. The 1971 “The American Dreamer” is a documentary about Dennis Hopper.
Director and co-writer (with Daniel Forte) Derrick Borte provides a grim scenario and a chance for Gaffigan to give us failure explained. We come to understand what tripped up Cam’s American dream and why he is a dreamer, but this dream of kidnapping easy pay-off becomes a nightmare and this Hail cab a hell cab. Cam escape karma, but perhaps only because karma has an even more imperfect human to deal with.
Both “American Dreamer” and “Ride” caution: Be careful who you trust. Don’t forget that when you engage as either rider or driver for Lyft or Uber.