The dreams of hitting the open road is a notion that can hit us at any age, and sometimes that journey comes out of pure necessity. In American Folk, strangers Elliott (Joe Purdy) and Joni (Amber Rubarth) leave must leave California and head back to New York in the days after 9/11, and it’s a road trip that’s definitely worth taking.
With a gig waiting for him in New York, Elliott (Joe Purdy) needs to hit the ground running while Joni (Amber Rubarth) must attend to her ailing mother. Strangers but instant companions out of necessity, the pair take a rickety van supplied by Joni’s aunt (Krisha’s Krisha Fairchild) from Topanga Canyon and being their cross country trek.
Elliott is a bit of a glum fellow, as this seemingly uncompromising artist is not too excited to play with a group called the Hairpin Triggers. His shell doesn’t crack until he discovers Joni, who has a much sunnier disposition, knows how to strum and sing a few tunes herself. The duo’s bond for folk music binds them together, and it’s the music, along with the people they meet on their journey, which keeps them moving forward with, dare I say it, a spring in their step.
One sequence that continues to resonate is their meeting with a Vietnam vet (David Fine) who’s living out the in the middle of nowhere. He’s got the know how on how to temporarily fix their constantly breaking down van, and for a bit of company and a home cooked meal he’s willing to oblige.
With over 14 states covered during their trek and the tragedy of 9/11 hanging over their head, it would be easy to turn American Folk into a preachy tale about unity and shining through adversity. Writer/director David Heinz keeps a laser focus on the intimate moments shared between people, and by keeping things subtle the impact of American Folk has a much deeper impact. Purdy and Rubarth, who are also on tour in support of this film, are both talented musicians, and credit Heinz once again for not using music as a narrative crutch.
There is beautiful music on hand in the film, and if you love folk this feature should appeal to your cinematic tastes. The biggest takeaway is that living in 9/11 and/or with Donald Trump as president, the path should always be the same.
America is diverse, vast, and often times a bit lonely, and there are songs to be sung all over this great land – and maybe we can join in on a few tunes or two. The makers of American Folk are urging us to “bring back the folk,” but there may be a few other things for us to find or rediscover in the process. A broken down van and a couple of guitars are a start, but it’s the company that keeps us singing, and American Folk’s music should continue long after this wonderful story ends.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
American Folk is now playing in select theaters and On Demand. I also talk about the flick on the latest episode of CinemAddicts: