A peppier father-daughter version of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" turns into an earnest coming of age road trip in the first feature film from Ani Simon-Kennedy just released to VOD and drive-ins. Sabrina Carpenter (“Girl Meets World”, “The Hate You Give”) acquits herself well as a blossoming acting talent at the center of the sweet “The Short History of the Long Road," with a strong supporting cast made up of actors better known for harder material like “Sons of Anarchy," “Walking Dead” and “Machete."
Nola (Sabrina Carpenter) is home-, or rather van-, schooled by her father Clint (a whimsical Steven Ogg) as the bohemian vagabonds travel from town to town supported by odd fix-it jobs from time to time. They have lived like this for as long as Nola can remember, but she longs to know more about their life before, their life with her mother in New Orleans. The nomads are happy enough, but Nola has just reached the age where she longs for more normalcy when her father is abruptly taken from her life.
Truly on her own for the first time and sad but pragmatic after losing her father, Nola sets out to seek what, or rather who, she always thought she wanted.
In the meantime, she needs to pick up where her father left off and find a way to fuel herself as well as her van. With that in mind, she becomes a squatter in a foreclosed house and haunts an auto shop looking for work until the owner (a soft-hearted Danny Trejo) takes pity on her.
At this point, the film departs from its promisingly grounded start and embraces a little magical thinking as Nola becomes a bit like a charmed Disney Princess meeting an unlikely string of good samaritans, easily finding her own community and helping others to find theirs.
Once Nola helps a fellow lost girl find her own mother figure, she decides she’s ready to face her long lost mother (a tender and self-assured Maggie Siff) and a complicated origin story that gives the audience a welcome look at alternative reasons for less traditional maternal choices.
Ultimately, the film starts strong but fizzles some of its early potential and could have benefited from more screen time for Ogg and between Nola and her dad as well, because even Carpenter seemed better in their common scenes.
“The Short History of the Long Road” is a successful if unambitious version of the superior “Captain Fantastic” or “Leave No Trace” that won’t win any awards, but I’ll be watching how writer/director Ani Simon-Kennedy develops her voice as the long road of her career continues.