written and directed by Joel Hopkins with Tunde Adebimpe, Hippolyte Girardot, Natalia Verbeke, and James Wilby opens July 27 at Broadway Market
THE ROAD TRIP may just be an inexhaustible movie genre. Durable enough to survive gross-out teen comedies and mismatched cop shoot-'em-ups, the form is also elastic enough to allow the thoroughly fresh, charming, and irresistible reworking of this SIFF favorite. Here, our promisingly and diametrically opposed duo is comprised of Nigerian-American George (Tunde Adebimpe) and French G鲡rd (Hippolyte Girardot), two strangers driving through the strange land of upstate New York. Buttoned-down travel agent George is headed to his arranged marriage, with manic, near-suicidal G鲡rd chauffeuring him as a lifesaving favor.
George's smitten with a sunny woman he briefly meets at the airport, Alicia (Natalia Verbeke), who invites him to a party. Impulsively, uncharacteristically, he accepts. There, as with the rest of Jump Tomorrow, director Joel Hopkins uses retro decor and furniture, an early '70s palette (oranges, greens), minimalist cinematography, and a period-sounding, but mostly original, soundtrack—including The Eels—to create a whimsical, timeless setting that invites physical comedy and banishes cynicism. Innocent stereotypes are sweetly embraced: G鲡rd is so French that he's got a little Eiffel Tower on the dash of his Citroꮠand "Amour" on the license plates. ("It's sensitive! It's a DS," he exclaims.)
Pursuing Hispanic Alicia, the Walter Mitty-esque George gradually reveals an inner life inspired by fiery, melodramatic telenovelas. A shy man, he's endearingly trapped in a stiff gray suit of propriety. Naturally we root for his disinhibition, particularly as tantalizing Alicia takes to calling him "Jorge" (who might be seen as George's raging alter ego). Providing the necessary barrier to their attraction is Alicia's insufferable English hippie-academic boyfriend, played by James Wilby (Maurice) with expert buffoonery. Fortunately, George has an unwavering, if erratic, advisor in G鲡rd, who scoffs at half-hearted romantic avowals, "But what does 'sort of' mean?"
The winningly amiable Jump makes the most of its modesty, with nods to Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot films and The Graduate, but it's no dry film-school exercise. In a summer full of big-budget dinosaurs and apes, this refreshing, low-key flick reminds us how little it takes to make us laugh—and how welcome that unforced laugher is. George is the kind of deadpan hero who inspires total audience sympathy, with pratfalls and unkind coincidences constantly assaulting his dignity. Even if Jump occasionally betrays its humble indie origins (and if Girardot sometimes clowns too much), this little movie is a wonder of constantly unfolding surprises. We know where it's going, but it's the detours that count. Hope and Crosby would be proud.
Originally a short, Jorge, that played Bumbershoot '99, Jump then grew to 96 minutes, as its director and star explained at SIFF. "People seemed to really respond to [George]," Hopkins recalls, resulting in an expanded story and the new character of G鲡rd. Still, he was on guard against adding too much to his script: "I wanted it to be nonspecific . . . like a storybook. In preparation, we looked at some Tati films. There's a terrific sort of understatement he has."
Hopkins found the same reserve in Adebimpe, a nonactor and fellow N.Y.U. film student specializing in animation. "He's not demanding you look at him," he says of his leading man. "He wants to skirt around the edges of the frame, almost. There are moments when I felt like he's accidentally walked onto the set. To me that stems from Tunde not being [a] professional. With professional actors, there's just slightly more desire to be watched."
"He's not doing anything but reacting the entire time," notes Adebimpe of his character. "If you do funny things with a straight face, they're instantly 3,000 times funnier, because it's not self-conscious. It's just awkward things happening to awkward people." Still, he adds, after "the straightjacket" of George, "I was so relieved" to perform the telenovela sequences.