"Why" isn't really that bad of a question when looking at a documentary about a bunch of guys who put their fast-track Corporate Jobs on hold in order to ride a Segway Scooter across the country (from one coast to the other, Seattle to Boston) at ten miles per hour and film the entire thing.
But "Why" is a question that is more than answered during the run time of Writer/ Director Hunter Weeks' documentary. Questioning further just might miss the cotton shucking point of this unique documentary. The reason being that 10 MPH isn't just a documentary about riding a Segway really, really slowly. In fact, one would be hard pressed to accuse Hunter, his friends Josh Caldwell and Johnathan F. "j.fred" Keough, his twin sister Gannon Weeks and the College Student whose school sponsored his involvement, Alon Waisman, of making a 92 minute commercial for the Personal Transport. Although the working title of America at 10 MPH was shortened for its DVD release, this documentary is very much about America and slowing down to experience the trip and much less so about the cool little vehicle they chose to experience it on.
So why in the name of Oscar the Grouch should you, loyal reader of (theoretical) Wealth and (questionable) Taste watch a documentary about some guys on a road trip? Who cares about these clowns easily cruising from Washington to Massachusetts? As it turns out, lots of people did... in part because these cool folks most assuredly didn't "easily" make this trip. In part because one of the main people who were supposed to care about this project gave up and withdrew his funding about half way through! Now that's darned rude.
The beauty of 10 MPH is the travel log aspect we see here. Virtually every city they come to greets them with hospitality and local color. In each city Hunter and his pals showcase someone interesting, potentially worthy of a documentary of their own each. Sometimes things work out great, sometimes things go awry. A scene of Hunter slamming a Tractor into the side of a Winnebago stands out as a mishap, whereas their featuring on radio and television shows, along with their sponsorship by a series of true-believing companies certainly helped to push them to the next plain in their long journey.
But the mishaps keep on coming, some big, some small. What do I mean? Well, have you ever travelled cross country and faced those annoying foibles that go with it? The body aches, the areas of no cell phone coverage, the vehicle repairs, the short fuses, the rejected credit card transactions, the weather shifts and all that? You know how sometimes you can't wait to just get a few miles away to forget some stretch of road, or get past a rain cloud or just to get some sleep? Imagine all that happening while standing up, exposed to the elements with every ten miles taking (at least) a full hour. How much do you hate driving in the rain when you're already burned out for the day? Imagine that cold rain coming while you're standing on a Segway with not a windshield and steel roof to guard you from the storm but a hoodie? Naturally you can see why 10 MPH can seem very real, because it most assuredly is... very real.
The characters are hard not to sympathize with, especially because these are real people who have put a whole lot on the line for a reason that boils down to the desire to tell a good, true story. And I applaud them for it. In many ways this is also a documentary about making a documentary as much of the trip itself is shaped by the victories and defeats that have been faced in the funding and construction of the film. (If you've never made a film, it's interesting to note that some of the hardest parts take place after the filming is complete, when it's time to edit... hoo-boy).
That's not to say that 10 MPH is a tragic story, though j.fred does nominate them for the cover of the inaugural issue of Failure Magazine! The truth is that there is a consistent feeling that the on screen players as well as the audience are just a hair's bredth away from a great success and giving up would be an enormous mistake. Because these guys soon feel like friends of the audience (an audience who, by now, is rooting for them mile by mile) there is a feeling that we're all in this together. Whether the path puts them in contact with the most obnoxious, whiny Cop one could imagine outside of a Village People Tribute Band reject or a meeting with Michael Moore himself or just slowing down to let a Deer bound over the road before them, the feeling that we're all part of this trip too never goes away.
The film itself is a victory, in spite of the literal and figurative bumps that Josh, Hunter, Alon, Gannon and the gang ride on over. The low points here will primarily depend on the taste of the viewer. Most viewers who like modern documentaries will consider 10 MPH to be an absolute triumph. There are some points in which this film about slow, slow travel goes, well, a little slowly. The film and its makers do rely quite a bit on audience empathy and succeed in great strides in winning said empathy. Those in the audience who don't connect with the film (though probably in the minority) will not connect with the ups and downs that this gang experienced in real life (with Josh experiencing it standing up most of the time). There are a few parts that give the feeling that too much time was spent on a few American Cultural points that might have been less consequential than other things we don't see in the film. While interesting and worthy of inclusion, these sequences do feel a little long as compared to what we might have seen in relation to the journey itself. Another thing (which may seem rather strange coming from me) is the fact that this film is completely uncensored (by aaron pruitt). All the colorful language that could be uttered in those low points is heard here in full digital sound. Does this bother me at all? Of course not, in fact, it makes the film feel all the more realistic and true to life. However, this film could have quite an audience for family viewers, who probably won't see it with such language included.
But for Josh, the rider and Hunter the Storyteller, realism and the journey is what this was all about. It's a Travel Log, it's a unique view point on America that stretches for more than three months and it's a truly admirable adventure. To quote Josh and Hunter, this was the thing they were supposed to do. I, for one, am very glad they did it. They did it with a great, American Intrepid spirit and a superb sense of humor! Most people won't ever have an experience like this one. Most people have all kinds of reasons they wouldn't do such a thing, even if they did manage to think up a unique idea like this one. Josh and Hunter and all of the many, many who got involved stopped making excuses and just did it. Thumbs up, guys. In short, if someone ever does publish Failure Magazine, I can't imagine Hunter and Josh would qualify for even a mention, let alone the cover! I'll see you in the next reel... at ten miles per hour.
Slow down, take a deep breath...
and Experience more Reviews at a thousand MPH!