Summer is my favorite time of the year. My body seeks heat like a rattlesnake soaking up the sun on a desert outcropping. Life slows down in the summer and the inclination toward outdoor leisure hits harder than Barry Bonds at bat.
Summer and travel go together like margaritas and salt. But often, a road trip on the weekend is more practical than a plane ride to somewhere exotic. Thankfully, the magic of cinema can give those of us with little time and shallow pockets the opportunity to broaden our vistas.
I’ve always had wanderlust, though never the bank account to accommodate it. And now with higher fuel costs and economic uncertainties, traveling vicariously has a greater appeal than taking out a second mortgage for that Mediterranean cruise I’ve been coveting. So, pour yourself a glass of something cold, put up your feet, and I’ll take you on a tour of my favorite cinematic destinations.
“Shirley Valentine” has the power to make any disillusioned domestic pack her bags and head for a land of blue skies and sandy beaches. Pauline Collins is Shirley, a 45-year-old wife and mother whose family treats her a little worse than they might an indentured servant working off a criminal record. When a friend invites her on a free holiday to a Greek isle, Shirley begins to remember the feisty, hopeful person she once was. The beauty and inspiration of Greece accompanied by an affair with a yummy Greek tavern owner helps open her eyes to the person she wants to be.
This is a movie steeped in magic. While most of us can’t pull up stakes and flee to Crete or Cypress, watching Shirley Valentine’s journey of self-renewal from the drizzly streets of Liverpool to the sun-drenched cerulean skies of Greece can be motivation enough to slow down and enjoy warm stillness and pink sunsets with a chilled glass of chardonnay.
Another comedy immersed in culture and beauty is “Waking Ned Devine.” This film takes place in the tiny town of Tuliagh Morh (Tully More) on the Emerald Isle. It’s a village populated by a mere 52 inhabitants with meager incomes but rich lives in some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. The plot revolves around Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan, septuagenarians who have discovered that a recently deceased friend in their village has won the national lottery to the tune of $7 million. Jackie and Michael, with help from the rest of the quirky community, plot to acquire and distribute the winnings among the townsfolk. There are many inspired moments in this movie, one of the funniest featuring Michael racing home on a motor scooter in his 70-something-year-old birthday suit.
“Waking Ned Devine” is a comedic gem that sparkles as brightly as the sun reflecting off the Irish Atlantic. Ian Bannen and David Kelly in the lead roles prove their many years of acting experience translate into better timing than a gold medal track star on steroids. The other star of the movie is Ireland itself, the countryside by the sea resplendent with winding roads, ancient stone cottages and a warm tavern buoyant with amber pints and Irish folk tunes.
“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” is on my top five list of favorite movies ever. It chronicles the journey of two drag queens and one transsexual on a road trip from urban Sydney to a rural resort town in the middle of Australia aboard a bus they’ve christened Priscilla. Anthony/Mitzi Del Bra, Adam/Felicia Jollygoodfellow and Ralph/Bernadette have perfected the art of lip synching to disco tunes in fabulous costumes and are taking their show to a gig in the outback. On the way, they encounter aborigines, intolerance and a mechanic with a mail-order bride. All the characters are as colorful as the costumes. And as one of the costumes consists entirely of miniature hot pink flip flops, that’s a lot of color. This movie is rich with one-liners, yet never clichéd. The humor is found in the humanity of three outsiders trying to retain their identities in communities that prefer K-Mart to Frederick’s of Hollywood. Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terrance Stamp star and each is as splendid as the views of an endless Australian horizon marred only by flags of brightly colored silk and the occasional wallaby.
Of course if you’d prefer a movie that makes you glad to be in the comfort and familiarity of your own home, pick up a flick like “Hostel” or “Turistas” about naive, self-absorbed Americans being abducted and tortured abroad. Those movies are gruesome enough to inspire a passport burning or at least an avoidance of any hotel without a valet. Me, I prefer drinking in the beauty, culture and adventure of places far from my own backyard, even when I never leave my living room.