Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)

Back in August, ’81 there was a country-ish buzz to movies, big hits like “Urban Cowboy”, “Every Which Way But Loose”, “Smokey and the Bandit” were all the rage. For that reason I suspect the producers of this movie chose “Honky Tonk Freeway” as the title hoping it would help the movie’s box office receipts by drawing in that same “Urban Cowboy” crowd. Instead “Honky Tonk Freeway” bombed at the theaters and I suspect it do so in part by being burdened with a poorly chosen title. Thats same problem burdens it now on video and thats too bad because its a pretty good movie and in a comedy style ahead of it’s time. No matter what, probably anybody who can remember 1981 will enjoy it.

Its too bad this movie bombed. But I think it would have anyway even if it hadn’t been saddled with a poor title. Its a movie ahead of its time. One could look at this movie now and see that its clearly a father or *great-uncle anyway) to the kinds of comedy made today. For its day “Honky Tonk Freeway” was pretty full of innuendo and a kind of frankness about life that didn’t get popular in comedy till much later on. While clearly its a child of “Airplane”, its more mature, and while its certainly no “Knocked Up” it clearly points in that direction. The characters are more “comedy-mature” in that they are low-key and don’t ever think anything they do is anything other than serious. The jokes are in the choices of what to emphasize and the camera views and the way the view themselves and their situations.

But, more than that, “Honky Tonk Freeway” is a real time capsule. A great look back at the exceedingly early 80’s. The people in this movie are dressed and act as everyday people of 1981 did. It was clearly meant to reflect the times and be a sly comedic comment on everyday life around them.

I don’t know if my review is helping you, but this is really a good, sometimes kind of excellent, movie thats worth renting if you want to see how a lot of faces that are familiar today looked when they were 30 years younger. Beverly D’Angelo is so young its hard to realize its her sometimes. So are Beau Bridges and Terri Garr. Terry Garr was just about to become the toast of Hollywood as her next movie after this one was “Tootsie” which finally made her a star. Howard Hessmann was arguably the biggest “current” star of the the day when this movie was made. Back in 1981 Howard Hessmann was the star of the big hit TV show “WKRP in Cinncinatti”. He played its lead character, the rascally night DJ. Daniel Stern was just about to break out as a star as the grown-up narrator voice of the lead child character in the popular 80’s sitcom “The Wonder Years” There are also several faces that are no longer with us these days, its nice to see Hume Crowyn and Jessica Tandy as a an old married couple on a journey. Jessica Tandy would finally pick up her Oscar ten years after this for “Driving Miss Daisy”. There is also the great Geraldine Page in one of her final movie appearances. Though she’d had a brilliant career she didn’t get her Oscar till four years after this in 1985’s “Trip to Bountiful”, for which she richly deserved it, and she died very soon after getting that award.

Plus, there are lots of other faces in this movie, actors who aren’t big stars but who have done tons of supporting work. Many are familiar even if you can’t think of their name.

This movie is a pleasant little diversion. A bunch of people with a variety of problems set out from various locations each for their own individual unrelated reasons who all, in a vaguely Altman-esk way, end up heading towards Florida and unbeknownst to them a rendevoux in the little town of Ticlaw, Florida, which happens to be reeling from the effects of being bypassed by the recently constructed interstate nearby which did not construct an exit to Ticlaw which effectively takes the town off the map.

And thats also what this movie is about, fascination with the whole idea of the interstate system, which had only recently been “completed”. It had taken a generation to build, from when it was authorized by congress around 1960, through many years as different parts were built and then “went live” and by 1980 most of the system had finally been built and all connected together and first the first time the promise of what the interstate system would be had turned into what is. And people were enchanted by it. Everybody by 1980 was pretty much an “interstate freeway veteran” in the sense that by then everybody had used parts of it and knew how it worked and how it was different from other roads in that it had no red lights or stop signs, only on and off ramps, and that it went to places that were formerly less accessible. By 1980 anyone could drive anywhere in comfort and without having to stop for anything except to eat and sleep and a bathroom. And this was all new then.

The ending is anti-climatic and isn’t that satisfying albeit its one spectacular moment. What makes it great is it’s the journey not the destination that makes Honky Tonk Freeway timeless in spite of it being such a product of its day. Forget its title; instead let it take you down memory lane.