Though it spends 95% of its 90 minute duration on a single New York City bus, Michel Gondry's ensemble drama about troubled teenagers in transit rarely feels repetitive. Using mostly non-actors, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind is in a vastly different world than in his previous films, yet his skill at crafting honest character-driven drama remains intact, even if the result will likely go down as a minor work.
Opening at the end of the last day of school, the film's set-up is a straightforward as they come: a large group of students ride the bus home, with their various personal issues surfacing over the course of the long journey. It's not much to go off of, yet Gondry and his co-writers wring remarkably authentic drama out of the cast of teenagers. Some fare better than others at acting (a few feel stiff or too mannered), but the overall effect is painfully honest and poignant. Sometimes Gondry lets the exchanges sink into tedium and repetition, but the performances are so lively and the conflicts so authentic that it rarely becomes an issue. The point may be simplistic (herd mentality crushes individuality), but the incidents used in the film and in its flashbacks are so vivid and feel so accurate that it's hard to deny their importance. Yet even though the 90 minutes are engaging, there are a few spots that feel redundant, and even Gondry's playful direction can't do anything about it. The conclusion is lovely, yet some of the journey feels a little too banal to keep the film from being more than a uniquely designed after-school special about teen dynamics.