There are plenty of movies that take the viewer to beautiful settings around the world, but there are scant few films actually about the act of traveling, and fewer still about the hostel-slinging backpacker netherworld (“The Beach” being the most famous of these). I discovered these movies about international backpacking three years ago, then nuttin’â€”until The Art of Travel, released in 2008, ended up in my player.
Despite the movie’s clunky flaws (I didn’t think the whole jilted marriage/ honeymoon was necessary to set up the trip; the beginning is riddled with lame dialogue; and the star, Christoper Masterson looks too much like Neil Patrick Harris tripping on mushrooms in “Harold & Kumar” to take seriously), I’m a sucker for any film in this sub-sub-genre. Especially when the travel story in question kicks off in the backseat of a Managua taxi!
Yes, the hero, high school grad Conner Layne, who doesn’t speak Spanish, spends his first night abroad in a clapboard room in Guesthouse Santos (a place I’ve stayed at least a hundred times) in the now-notorious Barrio Martha Quezada. On his second day, Conner upgrades to what looks like Hotel Los Felipe, then he gets robbed, drunk, robbed again, then double-teamed by a pair of topless Dutch girls. The movie-makers falsely portray Managua as a war zone but because there are some elements of truth their portrayal (fireworks that sound like gunshots, maniacal taxi drivers, etc), and their storytelling needs trump my desires for accuracy, I’ll let it slide.
Conner keeps traveling south, joins a preposterous expedition over the Darien Gap, then romances South America where we watch him blossom from traveler virgin to sunburned, seasoned vet on the Gringo Trail with lost loves and thousands of miles under his belt.
“The art of travel is to deviate from one’s plans,” he scribbles in his journal before dumping his hottie Czech girlfriend so that he can just keep traveling.
For us Nicaphiles, the movie is worth it for the glimpses of familiar scenery and the mother’s panicked, “Why did you have to end up in Nicaragua?!”