Ride the Eagle
by George Wolf
Small casts working on limited sets with wide open spaces. We’ve seen plenty of these films lately, and we’ll see plenty more. Because even under pandemic rules, creators adjust and create.
Director/co-writer Trent O’Donnell and star/co-writer Jake Johnson adjusted to the tune of Ride the Eagle, a lightly sweet lesson in living your best life while you still can.
Johnson is Leif, a harmless California stoner who plays bongos (oh, sorry, “percussion”) in a band called Restaurant. Leif’s been estranged from his mom Honey (Susan Sarandon, in a role that seems tailored to her) since she left to join a cult when he was 12.
But now, Honey’s dead, and she’s left behind a couple things especially for Leif. The first is her sweet mountain cabin up near Yosemite, which he can take possession of only if he pays close attention to the other thing Mom left.
It’s a VHS tape, filled with a to-do list that comprises Leif’s “conditional inheritance.”
“Is this legal?” Apparently, it is.
And luckily, Mom’s VHS player isn’t dead. So Leif dutifully goes about the tasks that Honey hopes will teach him things she regretfully did not: express yourself, eat what you kill, call the one that got away.
Sarandon’s on tape, and ex Audrey (a charmingly flirty D’Arcy Carden) is on phone and text, so this is nearly a Johnson one man show. Good thing he’s in his likable comfort zone, using his talks with dog Nora as an endearingly organic way to both inform and crack wise.
It’s all perfectly warm and amusing, but in need of precisely the jolt delivered by Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as Carl, Honey’s ex-lover who’s not shy about detailing their love life.
“That’s probably not what her son wants to hear, I guess.”
No probably not, but we do. Simmons’s cameo punctures the bubble by putting two humans in the same room to reflect on the passing of another human. It’s funny and it’s fuzzy and it goes a long way toward making sure these ruminations on forgiveness and regret actually resonate.
The Honey do list isn’t preaching anything new, but Johnson and O’Donnell never pretend that it is. Ride the Eagle is a casual, come as you are and wherever you are affair, like some comfort food two guys thought was worth another serving during a worldwide crisis.
And they’re not wrong. Some golden rules are always worth a rewind, even on VHS.
Ride the Eagle comes to theaters, VOD and digital July 30th