Bucket of Chicken
Death looms over Around the Bend. Henry (Michael Caine) desperately wants all the Lair men to pack up the van and head out on one last road trip before his passing. When his long-lost son Turner (Christopher Walken) shows up on his grandson Jason’s (Josh Lucas) doorstep, it looks like his dream will finally come true. But he dies first, leaving behind a “will” that consists of a series of clues and directions stuffed inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken bag. For the film’s focus on death and its aftereffects, the sense of loss that Henry’s immediate family feels is assumed rather than felt. With only 20 of minutes of screen time, the depth and nature of Henry’s relationship with his family is underdeveloped.
In the relaxed and observational bonus feature documentary, “It’s a Good Day: The Making of Around the Bend,” we learn that the movie took writer/director Jordan Roberts 10 years to write, with earlier versions including a more detailed backstory for Henry. Roberts’ attempt to focus on the emotional toll on the loss of a family member is observed from a clinical distance. The nearly 15 minutes of deleted scenes, mostly pertaining to Henry, point towards a different film. In his commentary, Roberts explains he cut the scenes because they did not propel the plot. But with the film already running at a scant 83 minutes, they hardly seem like overload.
Around the Bend is thankfully free of histrionic speeches and tearful outbursts, but instead takes a subtler approach. Henry’s will requires Turner, Jason and his son Zach (Lucas Bobo) to scatter his ashes at a series of pre-determined locations in New Mexico. Each day of the road trip requires them to eat a meal at KFC (Henry’s favorite restaurant) before they can proceed. Henry’s passing brings the thorny issues plaguing the Lair family to the fore, but each character struggles internally. Turner and Jason in particular dance around Turner’s unexplained disappearance, and for the most of the trip choose instead to argue over trivial matters such as Turner “insulting” Jason by calling him a “tense person.” Henry’s instructions however, will bring Turner and Jason to important landmarks that dredge up memories and force them to face events that have haunted their lives.
Early in the film Henry refers to the family as his “tribe.” He longs for them to come together, to be able to lean on each for strength and comfort. His will is a desperate attempt to bring them together in a way he could never achieve in his own lifetime. Unfortunately, the characters reconcile their differences too easily and predictably. Something tragic happened around Turner, and he and Jason have a verbal showdown at the final destination. The contrived conclusion flips the previously nuanced tone. Here death brings to the surface grudges, and misunderstandings that no bucket of chicken can resolve.