The Short History of the Long Road

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Short History of the Long Road Movie Poster Image
Authentic coming-of-age road trip drama has teen pot use.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 90 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Beyond our biological family, we find our "logical" family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nola is self-reliant, courageous, knows a lot about mechanics; she also often steals small items. Supporting cast includes positive portrayals of Native American and Mexican characters and characters with disabilities.

Violence

Some scary moments, including parent separation and being alone. Suggestion of abuse by a parent demonstrated through an abrasion.

Sex

Nonsexual nudity: glimpses of bare female shoulders/upper backs in the shower. 

Language

"Hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke pot at a party; beer cans are present, but no one is seen actually drinking. A scene takes place in a bar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Short History of the Long Road is a coming-of-age teen road trip drama. Nola (Sabrina Carpenter), who has grown up on the road living with her dad in their camper van, suddenly finds herself on her own. She must fend for herself as she travels with secret hopes of finding her mother, who she's been told abandoned her as a baby. Nola is brave and intelligent, but also a thief. In her travels, she encounters a gang of skaters and winds up partying with them, which involves smoking pot. The remaining content is mostly worry-free ("hell" is about as strong as the language gets), but the movie covers some dramatic/serious topics, including parental desertion and reunification, as well as death.

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What's the story?

In THE SHORT HISTORY OF THE LONG ROAD, teenage Nola (Sabrina Carpenter) and her father, Clint (Steven Ogg), are nomads in their VW camper van. They live minimally and do odd jobs to get by. When events force Nola to go it alone, she heads toward her parents' hometown in hopes of learning more about both of them.

Is it any good?

Ani Simon-Kennedy's first feature is an unexpectedly honest and unique drama about the life of a bohemian teen. It's a road trip movie, which is metaphorically perfect, since Nola is on a journey. The storyline prematurely forces her out of her father's protective nest and, while we fear for her, she -- and we -- are able to see how successful Clint was in teaching her to be self-sufficient. Nola is remarkably calm within the storm, quickly learning to adapt to manage relationships with the various "types" of people she meets along the way with as much grace as you can expect from a 16-year-old. She'd be a fantastic role model if not for her kleptomania. 

That's the one knock here: What starts out as a casual habit -- stealing an ornate barrette from an upper-middle-class woman -- becomes a mode of survival. Nola even steals from people who've shown her kindness. From a filmmaking standpoint, it gives her complexity and humanity, but from a parenting standpoint, it almost seems to justify learning to shoplift. Some adults become aware of her sticky fingers but don't challenge her on it. But one woman, who's active with the local church, does step in and acts with compassion. Her interactions with Nola are positive, and when they go their separate ways, the film isn't promoting or knocking Christianity; it's all just very realistic and human. When Nola befriends Blue (Jashaun St. John), whose father is abusive, again, Kennedy doesn't go for the sensational -- instead, she goes for authenticity. There's no hammering home of messages here. Instead, Kennedy offers up a quiet, beautiful story about teens who are like baby birds, spreading their wings before they're ready and realizing they can fly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Nola demonstrates courage in The Short History of the Long Road. Why is that an important character strength?

  • How does the film portray teen drug use? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

  • What does it take to be a nomad or live off the grid? What do you think those who choose that lifestyle gain? What might be lost?

  • How does this film compare to others in the road trip genre?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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