One of the many casualties of this year’s canceled SXSW Festival is Drunk Bus, the feature debut from directors John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke. It’s a ruefully funny film that deserves theatrical exposure.
Charlie Tahan stars as Michael, a recent college graduate whose girlfriend, Amy (Sarah Mezzanotte), abruptly dumped him and moved to New York, demolishing his future and leaving him stranded in Ohio.
Still in mourning after nine months, he has a job driving a late-night shuttle – nicknamed the “Drunk Bus” – because he transports intoxicated college students to and from their frat houses, parties and dorms.
One night, Michael tries to restrain a particularly obnoxious frat boy and gets a black eye for his trouble.
But when he starts his shift the following evening, he is greeted by Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), a gigantic, tattooed Samoan who informs him that Pineapple has been hired by Michael’s boss to provide security.
Michael is understandably taken aback by Pineapple’s larger-than-life appearance, but when he sees how confidently the big guy handles a bus full of out-of-control kids, he’s suitably impressed.
At the same time, Pineapple realizes that Michael is coasting through life on an endless loop. His only friends seem to be students Kat (Kara Hayward) and Justin (Tonatiuh), and his slovenly roommate, Josh (Zack Cherry).
Pineapple is determined to kick Michael’s ass back into the world of the living, and thus begins a journey of self-discovery, substance abuse and bad decisions.
Drunk Bus is the first feature screenplay by Chris Molinaro, who wrote the story along with the directors. As a matter of fact, this is LaGanke’s story, having spent time driving the late-night bus as a student – with Pineapple along for the ride.
Featuring lots of “so awful that it’s hilarious” situations, the film is full of offbeat yet recognizable characters, including the wheelchair-bound FU Bob (Martin Pfefferkorn), so named for the only words he ever utters; the promiscuous yet scary dorm girl Tara (Sydney Farley); and the Devo-loving Ted (Dave Hill), Pineapple’s stoner pal.
All the actors do good work here, especially the interplay between Tahan and the talented nonprofessional Tangaroa, who carry the film.
Luke McCoubrey’s cinematography effectively captures the atmosphere of a small midwestern town’s freezing winter nights. The perfectly pitched score by Alan Wilkis, Jimmy Stofer and Nathaniel Eras is also memorable.
Public screenings and festivals will be announced at a later date.
Feature photo: Charlie Tahan as Michael. Photos courtesy Ghost + Cow Films.