Fresh out of the pandemic comes Jake Johnson and Trent O’Donnell’s newest collaboration, Ride The Eagle. The pair, who worked alongside one another on the hit comedy TV series ‘New Girl’ for several years, pieced their project together over the course of lockdown. As such, they were among the first to tackle the logistics of filmmaking following the outbreak of Covid-19. Having realised and executed their film safely during one of the biggest health crises in history, in many ways Ride The Eagle is a product of innovative thinking and adapting to circumstance. Its very existence is a reminder that cinema and the arts will continue to adapt and thrive no matter what the world has up its sleeve. The film stars Jake Johnson as Leif, an ageing bro and struggling musician with mommy issues. Leif (conveniently) is the kind of person who enjoys isolation; he lives alone in a log cabin with only his wise and faithful dog Nora (played by Nora, Johnson’s own rescue dog) as a companion. After hearing about the death of his estranged mother, Honey (Susan Sarandon), who abandoned him at the age of twelve to run away with a zany New Age cult, Leif discovers an unusual arrangement regarding his inheritance. Honey’s large Californian home, situated in the secluded Yosemite national park, could be his, should he choose to complete the set number of tasks Honey prepared for him before her death. Leif chooses to travel to Yosemite, where he happens upon instructions – several recorded VHS messages Honey uses to communicate with him posthumously – and a substantial amount of marijuana. Honey guides Leif through several tasks, some riskier than others, in a last-ditch attempt to parent him and pass on some enriching life lessons, hoping this will allow him to forgive her and let go of any childhood pain and resentment that might hold him back. Among other tasks, Honey has Leif learn how to catch fish with his bare hands and encourages him to call and apologise to his ex-girlfriend so that he might begin to take more responsibility over his life. With the completion of each task, we see Leif begin to evolve and apply Honey’s lessons to his own life. Eventually, he wonders if there might be more to life than existing in isolation and more to achieve in his musical career than tagging onto a hipster band unironically named Restaurant. Along the way, Leif runs into several exciting faces, including his mother’s crazed ex-boyfriend (J.K Simmons), to whom Leif delivers his mother’s departing message, and the girl who got away, otherwise known as Audrey (D’Arcy Carden), who Leif reconnects with via awkward phone calls as part of his mother’s dying demands.
Ride the Eagle is a product of lockdown and probably wouldn’t exist in the same way or even at all if it hadn’t been for the many restrictions we all faced throughout 2020. The film will seem impressive to the audiences willing to bear those many restrictions in mind; however, for those who are eager to avoid any reminder of the pandemic, this probably isn’t the film for you. Ride The Eagle cleverly dances around its limitations. Yet, although the film doesn’t ever actually mention the pandemic, it’s transparently covid friendly and, as a result, is unable to spread its legs to its fullest extent. Although funny and charming, Leif and Audrey’s split-screen phone conversations start to drag on and subsequently fail to muster up the same emotion as physical communication, and Leif’s isolation and socially distanced interactions begin to feel somewhat forced as the movie wears on. It seems as if Johnson and O’Donnell were more interested in constructing their story around finding clever ways to combat covid restrictions. With such devoted attention to logistics, the overall narrative surrounding the middle-aged dude working through his issues becomes disappointingly unoriginal and vanilla.