This is the kind of laid-back, likable-enough American indie that acts like it’s emotionally intelligent and has deeply clever things to say about the human heart – but in its own way is as thin as any piece of fluff romcom. It’s the story of Leif (Jake Johnson), a perpetually adolescent man in his early 40s who lives in a friend’s shed in Los Angeles and plays drums in a rubbish rock band with kids half his age. He’s got just enough going on to make it worth rooting for him: a cuddly beard, and devotion to his black labrador Nora.
The film begins with a knock at the door. Leif’s hippy mom Honey has died of cancer. (Doctors were not her thing; she refused chemo.) Leif greets the news with a mellow stoner shrug: Honey abandoned him when he was 12 to join a cult and he hasn’t seen her since. Now she’s left him her luxury wood cabin in Yosemite – with strings attached. Before he can take ownership, Leif must complete a series of tasks: the instructions are on a VHS videotape at the cabin recorded by Honey (played by Susan Sarandon, who else?) before her death.
Honey’s tasks have a life-is-short, open-your-heart-to-the-world theme. From beyond the grave she instructs Leif to catch a fish with his bare hands, and to “call one that got away” to apologise. That leads to some of the best scenes of the movie: telephone conversations between Leif and his funny, smart ex-girlfriend Audrey (D’Arcy Carden). “Why are you calling me? Do you need money?” she demands on answering the phone.
The point of the tasks is to make numbed Leif feel something; but how would Honey, who hasn’t seen him in 30 years, know that emotional avoidance is his problem? And more to the point, how could she afford to buy that fancy cabin in the first place? This is a film with zero interest in the real world. Leif’s abandonment issues are unchallengingly packaged into standard manchild commitment-phobia. It’s a bit indulgent but, still, a gentle watch.
• Ride the Eagle is released on 4 October on digital platforms.