On the Road with HUDSON

Review by Maribeth Thueson, NRFTW Contributor

There’s a reason there are so many road trip movies. They provide the opportunity for characters to be placed in new circumstances and to be tested by unfamiliar situations, resulting in life-changing moments that might not happen otherwise. That’s what happens in Hudson, a warm-hearted road trip movie about the human connection. 

Ryan (Gregory Lay), an out-of-work New York actor, travels upstate to visit his cousin Hudson (David Neal Levin), whose mother has recently died. Hudson is a little bit off, the sort of guy who writes bad haiku, drives remote-controlled toy cars around the living room, and sleeps in a tent in the backyard. Hudson doesn’t have a driver’s license, so he persuades Ryan to drive him to a tree they played near as children, where he wants to scatter his mother’s ashes. 

Along the way they pick up a free spirit called Sunshine (Mary Catherine Greenawalt), who fixes the car when it won’t start and offers to guide them to the tree. The three of them have some fun, sampling cider and playing mini golf, but it’s not long before the car breaks down again and they get lost in the woods.

They’re lost figuratively, too. Ryan has broken up with his girlfriend, Hudson is semi-estranged from his father, and Sunshine hasn’t seen her parents for 10 years. They can’t connect with the people who should be the closest to them, but being forced into each other’s company for the day makes them depend on and open up to each other.

“Nothing’s turned out the way I planned it,” Ryan laments, and he’s not talking just about the trip. He could be any of us who have to face disappointments and who howl “why me?” to the universe. “This should be an exciting time,” Sunshine retorts. “No one’s telling you what to do. Like, you don’t have to worry about anyone else . . . you can do whatever you want. That’s awesome!” It’s frightening and exciting all at once when boundaries disappear, but Ryan’s not convinced that having to confront his own shortcomings is a good thing. He feels at sea and yearns for more certainty. 

Luckily for us, Ryan’s frustration and Hudson’s eccentricities make for a sweet and funny story as the cousins stumble their way toward a mutual connection. Filmed mostly in locations near Syracuse, NY, the cinematography makes the most of the area’s gorgeous fall foliage, and the landscape becomes almost another character in the film. Levin shines as Hudson, speaking absurdities with a dead-pan delivery, and Richard Masur has a nice role as a hippie-ish doctor. 

The music is quietly simple and beautiful, and fits the mood of the film perfectly. Directed by Sean Daniel Cunningham and co-written by him and Lay, Hudson will be released on streaming platforms and on demand September 21st.

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