Directors John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke’s Drunk Bus, originally intended for 2020 release on the festival circuit, shares with us a slice of campus bus driver Michael’s life. Michael, played by Charlie Tahan, is stuck in post-graduation limbo as his long-time girlfriend leaves him behind in Kent, Ohio to take a job in New York City. The film follows Michael’s unlikely friendship with the new security guard for the “drunk bus,” Pineapple, played by newcomer Pineapple Tangaroa. Pineapple attempts to help Michael break out of the endless loop he is stuck in, both on his bus route and in his life.
Writer Chris Molinaro delivers a script full of insight, humor, and enjoyable if unbelievable coincidences. While supporting characters like Kat, Josh, Amy, Fred, and Night Tara feel flat and underdeveloped, each is an unexpectedly funny and original take on their character type. Perhaps most importantly, their dialog and influence render them successful figures for protagonist Michael to play off of. Molinaro was most successful in delivering surprises and laughs in his writing of Pineapple and F*ck You Bob, the latter of which becomes perhaps the most unexpected character in the film.
Directors Carlucci and LaGanke manage to make a film that primarily takes place on a campus bus, while still being visually meaningful and intriguing. Repeated shots of Michael driving his bus on cold, lonely nights serve to visually mimic and enhance the repetitiveness and mindlessness of the rut that Michael has allowed himself to stay stuck in. His long stretches on the Campus Loop bus, backed up by the visual refrains of Michael eating cereal in his kitchen, Josh yelling at the TV surrounded by junk food, Michael sitting in front of his carefully curated but incomplete Polaroid wall, all highlight the monotonousness of the purgatory that Michael is living in.
Drunk Bus employs a handful of typical coming-of-age tropes. Michael (Tahan) is stuck with a funny yet obnoxiously lazy and inappropriate roommate Josh (Zach Cherry), his route takes him past “frat row” where his bus is subjected to a nightly egging and heckling, and he is in a post-grad limbo with a dead-end job and no long-term plan. He is constantly berated by too-drunk and sometimes-sick partiers who always seem to be part of a college experience that Michael himself could never figure out how to join in on. His new security guard Pineapple (Tangaroa) first appears huge, terrifying, and fully tattooed, but is quickly revealed to be an unlikely mentor with a soft side and a vested interest in helping Michael.
In spite of the moments in which viewers will think they’ve seen these conventions before, Tahan gives an earnest and nuanced performance as Michael. He never bores the audience, as even though the situations may be lacking in originality, Tahan brings the emotion and depth that his prior credits in Ozark, Super Dark Times, and Monsterland have led audiences to expect from him. Tahan shines in his portrayal of an indecisive, insecure young man trying to ignore the pain of an unwanted life change.
Overall, this film has enjoyable elements but leaves something to be desired. Tahan’s performance is the standout of Drunk Bus, and should be commended. Tahan and Tangaroa play well off each other, the combination of Tahan’s angsty emotion and Tangaroa’s effortless presence adding life to their scenes. Other relationships and characters in the film will leave the audience wishing for more development, but the central story of Michael is relatable, well-written, and well acted. Meet Michael on his bus route on streaming and on-demand platforms and in theaters starting Friday, 5/21.