comedy, Diva Zappa, drama, film festivals, Gavin Powers, Joe Powers, Karen Gillan, Katie Parker, Mali Elfman, Michael May, movies, Next Exit, Nico Evers-Swindell, Rahul Kohli, reviews, Rose McIver, Sloane Weber, Tim Griffin, Tongayi Chirisa, Tribeca Film Festival, Ty Molbak
February 16, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Mali Elfman
Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the United States, the comedy/drama film “Next Exit” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A woman and a man in their 30s, who want to become euthanasia volunteers for a controversial scientist, end up sharing a car for a road trip from New York City to San Francisco, and they bicker and develop a romantic attraction to each other along the way.
Culture Audience: “Next Exit” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of road trip movies that have an “opposites attract” premise for the travelers in a story that can be flawed but entertaining.
“Next Exit” is a road trip movie that can be as erratic and irritating as the would-be couple at the center of the story. The movie would’ve been better with a less predictable ending, but there are enough compelling moments to make this dramedy watchable. Much of the credit can go to how the cast members gamely handle the dialogue and scenarios, which can occasionally be boring and cringeworthy.
Written and directed by Mali Elfman, “Next Exit” is the type of independent film that wants to be adorable and edgy at the same time. It’s a tricky combination to pull off, and “Next Exit” doesn’t always succeed at it. But unless a viewer is completely disconnected from the movie’s characters, “Next Exit” maintains enough interest where viewers will probably be curious to see how the movie is going to end. “Next Exit” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Next Exit” begins by showing a video recording of what a controversial scientist named Dr. Stevensen (played by Karen Gillan) has declared is genuine paranormal activity: A boy named Reo Nakada (played by Gavin Powers), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, is shown playing cards with his father Niko Nakada (played by Joe Powers) in Niko’s bedroom. What’s unusual about this video? Reo is dead. And, according to Dr. Stevensen, this recording is of Neo’s ghost playing cards with his father.
Dr. Stevensen insists that this video is proof that ghosts are real. However, much of the general public and the overall scientific community think the video is a hoax. Dr. Stevensen owns and operates the Life Beyond Institute, based in San Francisco, where she wants to test her theories about life after death by having people volunteer to undergo euthanasia.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. government shuts down all funding for this research. In response to this shutdown, Dr. Stevensen is shown on TV in a pre-recorded statement defending her Life Beyond Institute: “It is a critical, not a criminal, enterprise.”
Despite the controversy, two strangers in their 30s who want to be euthanasia volunteers at the Life Beyond Institute will soon find themselves unexpectedly taking a road trip together from New York City to San Francisco. These two people have different personalities, but they have similar reasons for wanthing to make this drastic decision: They both don’t like their current lives and feel they’ve got nothing left to lose.
Viewers first see Rose (played by Katie Parker) in her New York City apartment committing fraud when she sells her TV to a stranger named Chad (played by Ty Molbak), who has come over to her place to get the TV. After taking Chad’s cash, she throws the TV over the stairwell, where it is immediately destroyed. She then goes back in the apartment, and locks the door behind her, while an irate Chad demands to get his money back. Rose makes an escape out of an apartment window and never looks back.
Rose has no personal attachments and has already made up her mind to go on this road trip by renting a car. But when she gets to the car rental place, Rose finds out that she can’t rent a car because she doesn’t have a credit card. Her offer to pay by cash is strictly denied. Her pleas are ignored.
Just by coincidence, a British immigrant is standing next to her and overhears Rose’s plight. His name is Teddy (played by Rahul Kohli), and he can’t rent a car for a different reason: His driver’s license expires in two weeks, and he wants to rent a car for longer than two weeks. When Rose and Teddy find out that they both plan to drive to San Francisco, they quickly decide that the best solution to their car rental problem is to share a ride. Rose (who has a valid driver’s license) will rent the car in her name, Teddy will pay for the car rental with Teddy’s credit card, and Rose will pay him her half of the car rental expenses.
Of course, in every road trip movie, things don’t go as smoothly as expected. From the beginning, Rose and Teddy have a clash of personalities. They are both very sarcastic, but Rose is a sour pessimist and much more emotionally guarded than Teddy is. In the beginning of the movie, Teddy is shown quitting his job working for a congressman named Milton Lucas (played Michael May), who thinks Teddy is making a big mistake. Teddy has told his former boss that he quit because Teddy wants to be a Life Beyond Institute euthanasia volunteer.
Soon after meeting each other, Teddy opens up to Rose that he used to own his own company, but he’s vague on other details about this company. Teddy, who says he doesn’t have any family members in the United States, also reveals that he doesn’t like his life because he’s been in the U.S. for 10 years, and he hasn’t achieved his goals of finding a wife and making enough money to travel around the world. Rose, who is also unmarried with no children, tells Teddy very little about herself at first, but gradually more details emerge about her personal life.
A long stretch of “Next Exit” consists of Teddy and Rose bickering. An example of their banter happens when they check into a motel for the first time together. And what a coincidence: This motel only has one room available. Rose hates the idea of sharing a room with Teddy and lets him and the front-desk clerk know it in a very crabby way.
Teddy’s response is to try to laugh it off with a joke. He tells the front-desk clerk: “If you find me dead in the morning, she did it. Be sure to thank her for me.” He then says to Rose, “You don’t have to be an asshole the whole time.” Rose shouts back, “We’re not buddies! I don’t want to be your friend!” There’s more tension between Rose and Teddy. And some of it is sexual tension.
“Next Exit” predictably has Rose and Teddy encountering quirky and occasionally alarming characters during this road trip. And the most cliché thing that can happen in a road trip movie happens: The travelers have car trouble. In this case, it’s a flat tire. Rose and Teddy get car tire help from a Catholic priest named Father Jack (played by Tongayi Chirisa), who gets quite an earful when Rose unloads on him with a rant about her issues with the Catholic Church.
In a bar, Rose and Teddy meet a border patrol officer named John (played by Tim Griffin), who makes a drunken confession that is very disturbing. On another occasion, Teddy and Rose pick up a weird hitchhiker named Karma (played by Diva Zappa), who says she’s on the way to meet her psychic aunt in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Arizona, Rose and Teddy end up visiting Rose’s sister Heather (played by Rose McIver), Heather’s husband Nick (played by Nico Evers-Swindell) and their adolescent daughter Steph (played by Sloane Weber), who all seem to be living a happy suburban life. But things are not at all what they seem, and the movie takes a somewhat dark turn, as some family secrets are revealed.
“Next Exit” missed some opportunities to have better character development for Teddy and Rose. Instead, there are distractions of putting Teddy and Rose in contrived and occasionally outlandish scenarios, for the purposes of getting more comedy or more drama out of the story. However, the movie obviously wants viewers to root for Teddy and Rose to fall in love with each other. Those intentions are sincere, but they don’t always feel earned. If Teddy and Rose fall in love, then what does that mean for their euthanasia plans?
Although “Next Exit” has several supporting characters, their time in the movie is fleeting and presented like characters appearing in sketch segments. The vast majority of screen time is about Rose and Teddy, a would-be couple who aren’t so much Mr. and Ms. Right but are more like Mr. and Ms. Right Now. Cast members Parker and Kohli give solid performances as these two conflicting characters. “Next Exit” tends to have a rambling narrative, but it’s ultimately very easy to see where this story is going and how it’s going to end.
Magnet Releasing released “Next Exit” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 4, 2022.