“Hudson” is a Sunday road-trip through upstate New York in the fall, taking place in a perpetual sunny afternoon. It’s minimally cast and simply shot. It’s a film with low expectations of itself, which turns out to be incredibly refreshing.
The 75-minute film, which premiered at Tallgrass on Sunday, is produced by Mary Catherine Greenawalt (who also acts in the film) and directed by Sean Cunningham. The film could easily be categorized as “mumblecore:” a low-budget film with a focus on relationships and an emphasis on dialogue rather than plot.
When estranged cousin, Ryan (Gregory Lay), shows up at Hudson’s (David Neal Levin) house, he gets roped into driving Hudson to a cherry tree (“the one with the swing”) in order to scatter his mother’s ashes.
When surprise hitchhiker, Sunrise, pops into the film, everything is imbued with a new energy. Greenawalt, who plays Sunrise, offers a warmth that the film previously lacked. The traveler’s journey ends up being a humorous and wandering one. At one point they end up in the middle of the woods, confessing their secrets to each other.
There is a lot of stumbling and other forms of physical comedy. There is also a theme of hypochondria, as Hudson continually makes trips to a doctor’s clinic to make sure he is okay (he is). His doctor, played by Richard Masur, is terrific.
I kept waiting for something to happen; for the other shoe to drop. The movie is so damn cheerful it made me nervous. But over time I relaxed and let the film simply entertain me.
The chemistry between the three actors is terrific, and they are amusing whether they are telling each other simple stories that seemingly go nowhere, or playing miniature golf.
The casual tone of the movie was no accident. Cunningham cited filmmaker John Hughes (“Breakfast Club,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation”) as an influence, saying, “We wanted to do a throwback 90s style movie where it’s feelgood. It doesn’t get out of the light area. So anyone can watch it.”
Greenawalt agreed, “It’s true to life. There’s a gentleness to it, a sweetness to it.”
Eventually Sunrise is dropped off at her home and Hudson and Ryan take a short walk towards their destination, the cherry tree. Spoiler alert: the tree has been cut down. As if the words flashed across the screen, I thought, “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.”
That’s a fine lesson for a movie to teach. I just wish it wouldn’t have been so obvious.