In Planes Trains and Automobiles, there’s a moment when Neil Page (Steve Martin) finally snaps, ripping into his annoying travel companion Dell Griffith, (John Candy). He tells him the way people usually approach telling stories, saying “You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting”, before hitting him with the line “you’re a miracle, your stories have none of that!”, following up with “and when you’re telling these stories, here’s an idea – have a point!”.
So, it was around two-thirds of the way into The Oak Room, coming to digital download from 26th April, that the classic Steve Martin rant played out in my head. It felt so appropriate as I became increasingly frustrated at the pointless stories being told, accompanied by stories about somebody else telling pointless stories.
The scene of the main story takes place in a remote Canadian bar, on a snowy night after closing time. A guy in a hooded jacket and face mask walks in and is met with hostility and the threat of a baseball bat by the bartender, Paul (Peter Outerbridge), who really should have locked the main door. The guy removes his coat and mask and is recognised by the bartender as being Steve (RJ Mitte). It’s been a few years since Steve was last in town, but Paul is still a little hostile with him as it turns out that Steve wasn’t around when his father, also a good friend of Paul’s, passed away, meaning that Paul had to pay the funeral costs. We see Paul make a call to someone unknown, letting them know about Steve’s return and they head off by car, due to arrive at the bar within the hour. There’s a bit of overacting and then Steve offers to tell Paul a story as some kind of compensation for what he owes him.
Steve’s story is about a different bar, called The Oak Room. It takes place on a different snowy night, with a different bartender (Ari Millen), who also should have locked his door and a different mysterious intruder (Martin Roach) who enters after closing time. This stranger isn’t known to the bartender though and is passing through while travelling North. They both exchange stories, with the bartender recalling a story from his childhood, a memorable event that also took place on a snowy night.
Back in the first bar, Steve informs Paul that the story he just told is actually the ending, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without knowing the beginning. He’s about to recall that important part when Paul steps in with a story of his own, a story that involves his friend Gord (Nicholas Campbell), Steve’s dad, while he was drinking in the bar one day. And this story also involves Gord telling a story of his own!
It’s at this point that Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles popped into my head. Everything so far has been very atmospheric, very mysterious, but also very dull. And completely lacking a point.To be fair, when Steve finally does get round to telling the all-important second part of his story, the beginning, The Oak Room does manage to redeem itself a bit. But it’s too little too late. As Steve Martin said about telling stories “choose things that are interesting”. And, unfortunately, about 80% of the stories in The Oak Room just aren’t that interesting at all.
The Oak Room will available on Digital Download from 26th April
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