Just why the 32nd birthday cake resembled a decrepit chocolate pile when compared to the 24th cake’s tidy and confident layers, Thomas couldn’t explain. He’d changed nothing in his baking methods except the flavoring.
Unluckily for the friend turning 32, we decided that what had emerged from the oven was a metaphor for aging decay. I, the fortunate 24-year-old, felt physically equal to the results of Thomas’ mistake.
Now, somehow 30, it’s my turn for a desert resembling swamp dirt. To help me through this transition, I’ve compiled a list of travel films for a quarter-life crisis. Pulling popular titles from several different age ranges, the following collection covers our physical and philosophical journey past that 25-year mark.
After all, we ask the same questions on birthdays and vacations: Where do I want to go next, and how can I get there?
Childhood: Animated characters and educational sing-alongs cleverly confront kids with the dilemma of disappearing youth, and the mystical destinations that too often slip away with it.
1. Up – Pixar’s tale of idealized destinations tops every list of kids’ travel movies, even though it’s main character is a grumpy old man clinging his past. When a young boy scout arrives on his doorstep, the two accidentally set off on an adventure. In a distant land, both learn that some dreams are best left for dreaming.
2. Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines – “If man were meant to fly, he’d be born with wings.” The old adage receives a battering in this 1960s English comedy. As international contestants compete in a flying race across the English Channel, they’ll challenge cultural and gender stereotypes – as well as the laws of gravity.
3. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey – Neither natural predators nor man-made threats can stop Chance, Shadow and Sassy from reuniting with their owners. The voices of several celebrities give narration to the thoughts of these domesticated animals, whose quest calls to question the relationship we form with our pets.
4. Rio – Blu can’t fly. But with extinction looming, the world’s last Blue Macaw is transported from Minnesota to Rio de Janeiro to mate and produce offspring. Befriended by a chorus of Brazilian birds, Blu must learn to trust others – and his wings – in order to escape the evil Nigel (appropriately voiced by Flight of the Concords Jermaine Clement).
5. The Muppet Movie – Join Jim Henson’s anthropomorphic creations on their first road trip (in their first feature film) as they chase after the golden lights of Hollywood. This is the story that introduces the famous gang, along with catchy musical numbers such as “Rainbow Connection” and “Movin’ Right Along.”
Teen-to-Twenty Something: Wandering is an essential part of the decade, as shown through a slew of scenes featuring lost and confused young adults struggling to answer life’s existential questions.
6. One Week – “What would you do if you only had one week to live?” asks struggling writer, Ben. It’s a question that never arises from his mediocre existence, until he’s diagnosed him with stage four cancer. Leaving the doctor’s office, he buys a motorcycle and heads west, seeking healing from the highway.
7. Vicky Christina Barcelona – Differences in travel styles soon lead to extremes in love, sex and careers between two college friends spending a summer in Spain. Under Barcelona’s seductive influence, both girls surprise themselves by perusing uncharacteristic behaviors. What’s more important: adaptability or steadfastness?
8. Away We Go – An unexpected pregnancy convinces Verona that she and her partner are screw ups: lacking a steady income, maturity and a suitable house in which to raise the child. From Phoenix to Montreal, the couple search for the perfect place to start their family; but along the way, they’ll discover a new definition of Parenthood.
9. L’Auberge Espagnole – Barcelona again toys with the hearts and minds of a movie cast, in this French tribute to the quintessential study abroad experience. When a French business student moves into a flat of international characters, he quickly unearths an inborn desire for change. Questions of marriage, occupation and passion drive his transformation during the semester.
10. Elizabethtown – Rumor has it Cameron Crowe made this movie simply to insert his favorite road trip songs into the playlist. An ideal mix of road-worthy songs does indeed accompany the journey of a failed entrepreneur who returns home for his father’s funeral. With the ashes on his front seat, Drew confronts mistakes and missed opportunities as he and dad explore America posthumously.
Middle-Aged: Some time after 40 – or so it appears in the following films – adults (or just men, mostly) lose their ability to squeeze joy out of small things; instead, we become fixated on falling behind in some grand, yet exclusive storyline.
11. The Trip To Italy – After the success of their gastronomic tour of England, (The Trip), two comedians follow their taste buds around Italy. Over kitchen camera shots and panoramic views, the duo contemplate middle-age, impersonate great(er) actors and compare dwindling careers.
12. City Slickers – “One thing,” an old cowboy ruminates: life comes down to finding the one thing that makes you happy. The advice gets dispensed to several NYC guests at a western dude ranch, who only realize its significance after a series of disasters disrupts their cattle herding holiday.
13. Lost In Translation – Bill Murry’s dry humor veils the movie’s themes of discontent and loneliness. While on a business trip to Tokyo, Murry’s character forms a relationships with a younger traveler. For a fleeting moment, this connection breaks down personal barriers and brightens their experiences in the city.
14. Under The Tuscan Sun – Female misery finally gets some screen time via one unexpected divorcee who, while on a recovery holiday in Italy, decides to buy a crumbling Tuscan villa. Housing renovations act as a metaphor for her own emotional regrowth, as she throws herself into her new landscape. Expect a happy ending of imperfect sorts in this chick flick.
15. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – When a handful of vacationing British pensioners find out their Indian accommodation is more ruin than resort, they lose themselves in the overwhelming culture of the subcontinent. Romance, death and reality subtly transform them in this new, daring environment.
What travel films make your quarter-life crisis list?