Title: Where the Road Meets the Sun
Writer-director: Yong Mun Chee
Starring: Will Yun Lee, Eric Mabius, Luke Brandon Field, Laura Ramsey, Fernando Noriega, Elsa Pataky, Jesse Garcia, Emmanuelle Vaugier
A sprawling, somewhat self-consciously multi-ethnic drama of struggling immigrants from writer-director Yong Mun Chee, Where the Road Meets the Sun is a movie which means well, in unspooling its story of hard-knock, off-the-grid America, and both the unique opportunities and special perils that presents for those with headstrong dispositions. Unfortunately, despite some relaxed, inviting performances, the film repeatedly identifies plausibility as an enemy, and never locates a compelling enough throughline to hook and pull an audience through from beginning to end.
A brief fling with Michelle (Elsa Pataky, Chris Hemsworth’s wife) seemingly costs Blake (Eric Mabius) his relationship with Lisa (Emmanuelle Vaugier). Years later, as the manager of a dingy flophouse hotel in Los Angeles, he meets and befriends Takashi (Will Yun Lee), who’s awoken from a coma and needs a place to stay. As they get to know one another a bit better, Takashi tells Blake quite a story about his amnesia; he opted to take a drug in order to forget all the pain of his life.
Meanwhile, fresh off a truck after being smuggled into the United States, Julio (Fernando Noriega) gets an off-the-books job at an Indian restaurant courtesy of pal Jose (Jesse Garcia). At the same time, British backpacker Guy (Luke Brandon Field), living on an expired travel visa and wired money from his estranged father, runs through a string of women before attempting to more sincerely woo neighbor Sandra (Laura Ramsey). Guy also strikes up a friendship with Julio, although he can scarcely comprehend the enormous differences in their lives, despite their shared age, 23. Various slip-ups by both Julio and Guy seemingly present a hiccup in their relationship, but the pair smooth things over and agree to stick together.
Where the Road Meets the Sun plays kind of like a cross between a less moralizing Crash and a slightly older, illegal immigrants’ version of the 1992 ensemble Where the Day Takes You, in which a bunch of Hollywood up-and-comers played homeless and otherwise down-and-out kids and twentysomethings struggling to survive on the mean streets of Los Angeles. The story — which makes good use of Hollywood locations without overly, pointlessly luxuriating in them — is told in a very subjective manner, definitely from a scruffy, blue-collar point-of-view. (In this regard, it’s kind of a West Coast counterpart to Ethan Hawke’s grungy Chelsea Walls.) One of the problems is that — apart from Julio, who works to send money home to his wife and child — there’s a fairly distinct lack of motivation, professionally or personally, in the other characters. They exist seemingly only in counterpoint to one another, to provide a momentary conversational foil or sounding board for the particular anxiety, ennui, regret or ambivalence that the writer-director wishes to express.
In her feature directorial debut, Mun Chee exhibits a nice instinct for casting and working with actors; her movie has a convincing lived-in vibe. But narratively there’s no real excitement here (until an awkwardly staged and ridiculous, emotionally overblown conclusion), and the ideas are kind of thinly developed. Strangely, a small portion of the film unfolds in 1999 and then just before 2001, seemingly so Mun Chee can exploit the World Trade Center attacks as an empty marker of memory. Meanwhile, other characters appear and then fall out of the movie entirely, never to resurface. Its title is evocative, and hints of magic and special possibilities; unfortunately, Where the Road Meets the Sun doesn’t truly deliver on any of those promises.
Written by: Brent Simon