Road trips are easy fodder for stories about tension and hostility. The car, for one, is an ideal space for trading barbs and airing grievances. You are pent up and cramped, the doors are locked, and you are moving at an unsafe speed while at the mercy of the driver. Families inevitably fall into a state of disagreement, and there is often one person who deserves most of the blame. He or she is usually the one who feels like they have been wronged, and maybe they have a reason to be irritated or irate. In Stephen Gurewitz’s Marvin Seth and Stanley, we get the unfettered experience of discord without the justification for reproach.
Marvin et al is an extended exercise in dissent. Stanley (Alex Karpovsky) and his younger brother Seth (Stephen Gurewitz) are visiting their estranged father Marvin (Marvin Gurewitz) in Minnesota for a weekend camping trip and, ostensibly, some kind of reunification. Once on the road, Stanley commits himself to ruining this already strained vacation. He’s a bitter man going through an acrimonious split, spitting vitriol and unrepentantly trying to spread his misery. Over the course of a weekend, he lies to his father, provokes strangers, abuses his brother, and hectors everyone he encounters. The vacation is not a vacation at all; it is a platform for Stanley’s antagonism and bile.
Unlike his son, Marvin is simple and reticent, a stocker in a supermarket (unbeknownst to his children, who think he’s comfortably retired) who is content with a bowl of cereal and a motel room. He may or may not be oblivious to his son’s misanthropy, but he definitely isn’t disturbed by it. When Stanley berates him, he doesn’t respond. When Stanley puts his brother in a headlock and drops him to the ground for no reason, he tells them to stop horsing around. Seth, unfortunately, has some admiration for his reprehensible older brother. And, as another subject of Stanley’s derision, he’s also intimidated by him. This is the family dynamic, and it seems immutable. Stanley will shrewdly find a way to the center.
Writer and director Stephen Gurewitz does not attempt anything ambitious over the film’s quick seventy-five minutes. He keeps the focus on Stanley and the reactions to his lashings. If you are expecting the Karpovsky show, you will be satisfied; his condescending wit is the marrow of this slight entertainment. But Stanley is nastier than most of the grandiloquent pedants the actor has portrayed. This time the despicable nature of his character is almost inexcusable, and it raises the enduring question of whether we can tolerate or sympathize with an unlikable character. The only possible reason to do so is because, in his father, he sees his own cowardice and frailty, as well as his potential future. Marvin is who he is afraid he will become.