Watching DriverX was like walking into a bar or pub where everybody knows you-an instant comfort for someone who loves the movies and also happens to drive for Uber in St. Louis.
Henry Barrial’s film about a middle-aged stay at home family man in Los Angeles who decides to earn more money for his family the unconventional way, through a ride sharing service called DriverX, spoke to me on a number of levels.
Leonard( Patrick Fabian from Better Call Saul) is an old school guy, a former record store owner who watched his shop get swept away by the infusion of ITunes and Spotify. Basically, an analog player in a fast moving digital landscape. The film opens up with Leonard interviewing for a company ran by people half his age who ask him questions that are impossible to answer without using a hashtag or Instagram post.
When Leonard says his worth lies in his knowledge of music and his need to spread it to the younger generation, the supervisor simply doesn’t understand. Instead of rebelling against the new wave of pop culture and accessibility, Leonard decides to collide with it when he signs up to drive.
Being an Uber driver since this past summer, DriverX gets so many things right about the experience of picking up strangers-often drunk people-and driving them around the city for a short period of time. When Leonard gets berated for not knowing directions or has to deal with an “accident” in the car, Barrial (who also wrote the script) doesn’t bat an eye or avoid showing the awkwardness of the encounter.
Rideshare driving is a continuous series of weird close encounters with the human species, and DriverX is an honest portrayal of that experience. Other rides include Leonard making a friend and connecting with a rider over a love of music, and those scenes are smoothly conducted.
However, it’s the home life quarrels that Leonard deals with that really set this film apart. When Leonard clashes with his overworked and frustrated wife, Dawn (Tanya Clarke from Cinemax’s Banshee) over his new job, Barrial doesn’t add any extra music or theatrics to show what so many middle-aged couples go through when it comes to income, finances, and money. There are parts of DriverX that feel like a documentary, and that’s a good thing, because it looks so real.
DriverX is a perfect window into the world of Uber/Lyft driving for people who wonder what it’s like to go out and scrap for your paycheck, but don’t want to give it a shot. While not having a real boss or constant oversight is nice, driving for a rideshare company doesn’t guarantee a big check-which means you are essentially working off commission, and battling temptation and danger at any given moment. I laughed out loud with some pain in my stomach when Dawn asks Leonard how much he made last night, and Leonard’s meek replay of, “37 dollars…and some change”. I’ve been there!!
DriverX wears its indie armor like a badge of honor, shooting most of the movie guerrilla style from the backseat or passenger seat of Leonard’s car, one camera scanning the entire movie without any extra wide shots. Made for cheap and shot in parts spread out over years, this is true independent filmmaking at its best. This method places you right inside the drama of Leonard’s late night drives through L.A., which was inspired by Barrial’s own experiences as an Uber driver.
Mark Stolaroff, a producer for the film, said the movie came about when Barrial would call him late at night and tell him about the wild things that just happened in his car. That’s where DriverX was born, which is exactly the way it should be. By doing it himself, Barrial built this story from the inside out instead of telling a story based on rumors.
Fabian is perfect as the kind-hearted but intrigued driver who has no idea what he’s in for. He doesn’t play the role straight, and that’s exactly what was needed. While loyal and sweet, Leonard does have a hidden wild side that comes out, and it’s funny and compelling. Most of you may know Fabian from playing the steely Howard on the AMC television show, but Leonard is the complete opposite speed, and the actor nails the transition. Clarke is also very good in a tough role, the wife who just wants her family to be stable and healthy yet doesn’t have the navigation to make it happen.
Fabian and Clarke have many great scenes together, and they work so well because they are blunt honest. There are no scene chewing monologues or extra mile speeches, just two actors playing realistic people with some extra bite to their mannerisms.
I liked the fact that Barrial didn’t make Leonard Mr. Perfect, and abstain him from certain moments and encounters in the car. When a young woman comes onto Leonard, he doesn’t flash his wedding ring and run out of the car. When a punk rock band climbs into his car and one of them connects with Leonard, it’s done with subtlety that makes you wonder what you would do in that situation. A dream and reality all at once, DriverX is provocative in that it makes you wonder about the job, like staring at a carton of ice cream in a store freezer.
There will be a lot of Uber/Lyft inspired movies coming out in the next few years. Filmmakers are like painters-they paint what they see. Just let it be known that DriverX was the first to the table and the one that got it right.
DriverX may not be as cool as Drive or Netflix’s Wheelman, but it shines a much-needed light on a profession that’s not as easy as it looks, and far more interesting than you think.
Well done, Henry Barrial.