Synopsis: A Los Angeles ride share pool turns into a road trip to Paradise, NV for four millennial strangers, each at a crossroads in their lives, who find unexpected connection.
Stars: Lynn Chen, Dreama Walker, Jonathan Lipnicki, Taryn Manning, Jordan Carlos
Director: Roxy Shih
Running Length: 80 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: For several years now, a friend and I have been taking short road trips to various parts of the Midwest that aren’t ever more than eight hours away from our Land of One Thousand Lakes. The excitement of the journey in going there is great but as I grow older, I find it’s the coming back stretch that has become a bit of a slog, can get tense, and is, let’s face it, hard on the butt. A year or so ago we randomly flew to one of our oft haunts and realized that we could get to the same place in 90 minutes that it normally takes us eight hours to drive to. Like a bolt of lightning, it dawned on us that the stress of the road could be left behind and the vacation could start (and end) that much easier by making a road trip truly that special, one-of-a-kind thing instead of the every time deal. I’m about to head out on another one and let me tell you, the thought of not having to drive across several states is totally heavenly.
I mention my anecdote at the start of this review of the ultra-low-budge indie Pooling to Paradise, out now on VOD, because for much of the film I found myself in that tense, “road home” mode of a car trip where I was stuck in a vehicle with passengers that chattered endlessly looking at an odometer that wasn’t moving. Here’s the thing, though. There’s something sort of appealing at the beginning of it all. While screenwriter Caytha Jentis and director Roxy Shih have delivered a film with the heart of a ‘90s alternative dramedy and it contains an engaging performance or two, Pooling to Paradise can’t find the right gear to shift into (or out of) and winds up in the slow lane to sameville.
Hover mother and mommy blogger Jenny (Lynn Chen, The Little Princes(ss) ) is headed to Las Vegas for a conference and is nervous about leaving her kids with her husband. We know she’s nervous because she spends her introductory moments under the belief the entire household will burn to the ground the moment she leaves the house. So insanely detail oriented at home she mistakenly books her rideshare to the airport using the “pool” option instead of “single” (why is this conceit still a thing?), I’ll give you two guesses if the driver Marc (Jordan Carlos) gets her to the airport on time after picking up the other two riders, spacey Kara (Dreama Walker, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood) and strung-out Sean (Jonathan Lipnicki).
Diverting to Paradise, NV (Las Vegas isn’t too far away), the four spend the next day making some rather large revelations to one another in what turns out to be a long group therapy session on wheels. You don’t have to be well-read to see where each character is coming from or where they’re going so your enjoyment in Pooling to Paradise is going to come in what you think about the riders. Thankfully, the actors mostly acquit themselves nicely with Carlos and Walker making the most out of the rusty dialogue Jentis has prepared. At first, Carlos’s character comes across a bit too mystic-wise man but the way he leans into the laid-back nature of Marc helps his fellow actors also loosen up as well. I wish that had worked better on Lipnicki who is overcompensating for…something, I don’t know what, in his frenzied, emotional rollercoaster of a performance. That he’s matched with Taryn Manning as his ex-girlfriend (who lives in Paradise) is also a bit of a head scratcher. Chen is supposedly the lead of the film but often gets sent to the way, way back seat in favor of the other characters with a more interesting narrative.
I can’t say Pooling to Paradise is a trip worth your time, even at a scant 80 minutes. The group’s lengthy discussions of personal hopes, failures, regrets, etc. feel more suited for a stage production and that’s how Shih often directs them, even with some brief moments of cinematic flair. The tank runs dry fairly quickly on interest and that’s when you’re left on the side of the road hitching a ride back in the other direction.