Packed with a host of off-kilter characters and traversing some over-familiar indie terrain, this slacker comedy co-directed by John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke could easily have seemed grating. Nevertheless, believable performances, along with a deep understanding of place, lend Drunk Bus a cheeriness that is entertaining and heartwarming.
Just like the creaky campus bus that he has driven around the same route every night for the past four years, recent graduate Michael (Charlie Tahan) is stuck in a depressing loop. His Catholic girlfriend Amy (Sarah Mezzanotte) has left him for New York, while the still-virgin Michael remains in Kent, Ohio. His daily dealings with drunk students and aggressive, burrito-throwing frat boys bear the same approach: meek numbness and exasperated acceptance. His directionless apathy changes when, after a minor scuffle, Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), an intimidating-looking Samoan security guard with a full facial tattoo, is assigned to protect the bus. The pair make for an endearing odd couple as Pineapple nudges Michael on to a more carefree path.
While Pineapple could have easily fallen into something similar to the “Magical Negro” trope, where a non-white character functions as a life coach for the white protagonist – and admittedly the script does occasionally veer in this direction – Tangaroa is such a hugely charismatic performer that he rises above such constraints. The film also balances out the quirkiness – a character is nicknamed Night Tara because she has night terrors – with a real appreciation for Kent itself. It is a dead town, yes, but Drunk Bus captures the spirit of the community there: by showing the local diner or the snowy, sloping streets where the characters slide around. While the mix of drama and comedy is shaky, Drunk Bus is still a rewarding watch.