James Jay Edwards reviews Monuments, a unique road trip movie written and directed by Jack C. Newell and starring David Sullivan and Marguerite Moreau. (1091 Pictures)
Generally, road movies fall into one of two categories: people on an existential journey to find themselves, or people desperately running from someone—or something—else. In the case of Monuments, the newest movie from Open Tables and Hope Springs Eternal director Jack C. Newell, it’s a little of both.
Monuments is about a college professor in Boulder, Colorado, named Ted Daniels (David Sullivan from M.F.A.) whose wife, Laura (Marguerite Moreau from The Mighty Ducks and Wet Hot American Summer), dies just days after they reconcile their troubled marriage. Her family wants to lay her ashes to rest near their home in the Rockies, but Ted wants to scatter them at the Field Museum in Chicago, a place that was very special to the couple. So, Ted steals the ashes and, aided by Laura’s ghost, has to outrun and outsmart his wife’s family and ex-boyfriend as he makes his way east.
(Monuments, theatrical release poster, courtesy 1091 Pictures)
Jack C. Newell wrote the script for Monuments from a story by Rebecca Fons. It’s a quirky little dark comedy, flipping between Ted’s past memories and present exploits in a way that creatively and entertainingly tells the story. It’s easy to follow, mainly because the plot is so simple, and the movie does what it does well; mainly, it gets its audience on Ted’s side, even as he makes questionable, grief-motivated decisions.
While his trip from Boulder to Chicago isn’t exactly a hero’s journey, it does see him encountering and interacting with a gallery of different characters along the way, most of whom help but some do hinder him. There’s a free-spirited woman named Amber (The Big Sick’s Shunori Ramanathan) that he meets while hiding out in a local bar. And then there’s the trio of young singing girls in a van (played by Lady of the Manor’s Angela Alise, School of Rock’s Rivkah Reyes, and The Real World’s Sahar Dika) who, despite being headed in the complete opposite direction, decide to pick him up and give him a lift. And the whole time he’s being trailed by Laura’s ex Howl (Javier Muñoz from Shadowhunters) and sister Crystal (Paulina Olszynski from My Soul to Take).
(Monuments, courtesy 1091 Pictures)
Ultimately, Monuments is about the relationship between Ted and Laura. At the beginning of the film, they are rebuilding their marriage when her life is tragically cut short. Ted continues to work on their union, only now it’s by working through his grief and coming to terms with his loss. He does this mainly through humor—Monuments is not knee-slappingly funny, but it’s not an uncomfortable comedy either. It’s more mildly amusing than anything else. Although it’s no laughing matter, the rest of the world thinks Ted is going crazy. And they’re justified in thinking that.
Laura’s family is also processing their grief but in a very different way. They’re angry, and more than a little resentful of Ted. Even before her death, Laura’s family berated her for wanting to repair her marriage with Ted, and while Laura’s death is not even close to Ted’s fault, they still seem to blame him a bit. And her ex-boyfriend, Howl, is just there to fan the flames of hostility. No wonder Ted made a run for Chicago.
(Monuments, courtesy 1091 Pictures)
Monuments puts a cool supernatural twist on the age-old road trip movie motif, and the unique take is refreshing. While it’s not instantly forgettable, it’s not infinitely memorable either. It gets in, provides some laughs and some thrills, and gets out. And then, it lets the audience get on with its life and head on down the road.
Monuments is available on VOD now.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.