“Hudson” – Talk to any random group of New York City residents – especially those born and raised in The Big Apple – about Upstate New York, and four out of five will say, “Upstate isn’t really New York.”
Technically, they are wrong, but culturally, those blokes and blokettes have a point. The City sports over 8 million residents in just 300 square miles. It has Broadway, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Wall Street, Yankees baseball (and 27 World Series championships), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and great pizza.
Meanwhile, in between Syracuse, Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo, Upstate features never-ending stretches of rolling hills filled with deciduous trees. You’ll also drive by an occasional red barn, a cider mill, a local garage named Al’s Automotive, and a confusing network of somewhat-maintained country roads that have more curves than Jason Momoa and Christina Hendricks on a joint-calendar shoot.
Yes, director/co-writer Sean D. Cunningham’s “Hudson” features a clash of philosophies between Downstate and Upstate but not with earthshaking bombardments between tribes, factions and armies. He reunites two cousins – who live in the aforementioned opposing worlds – in a road trip comedy/drama, complete with simple pleasures, warm smiles and a couple gentle tears.
As the film opens, 30-something Ryan (Gregory Lay) takes a train from NYC to Small Town, U.S.A. Ryan – a hip actor who lives in the Village – has some downtime, so he visits his cousin Hudson (David Neal Levin). They haven’t seen each other in ages and have an initial awkward reunion, as Hudson’s recluse-persona immediately stands out. He is a mellow, kindhearted soul but dons a bathrobe in the middle of the day, shares numerous Haikus and races his remote control car around the living room and mentions, “I have a few more laps to get in.”
Hudson’s genial nature sincerely draws in the audience through an inherent contrast, as this puzzling, droll character places us in complete ease but delivers the most unexpected commentary, similar to “Saturday Night Live’s ‘Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey’”, but more childlike. For instance, Hudson picks up Chinese takeout and says, “I hope you like food.”
Well, the camera doesn’t just like Levin. It loves him, and he shares its adoration with Mary Catherine Greenawalt who plays a free spirit named Sunrise. For reasons that will not be revealed in this review, the cousins hop into a burgundy/brownish Volvo and hit the road to address a family matter, but – along the way – they pick up Sunrise out of necessity, despite Ryan’s reservations. Since Ryan’s frequent impatience clashes with Hudson’s laidback attitude, Sunrise plays an important buffer, as this misfit-triad heads to a place called Cherry Ridge. Incidentally, one would be hard-pressed to find a ridge of any kind at the said location, but that’s not the point.
The point, instead, is to enjoy the journey and the small conversations. Ryan and Hudson reminisce about their preadolescent days and Sunrise shares her dreams and history, while they drive on the winding asphalt, surrounded by vibrant orange and red hues. Cunningham also ensures that the three crunch on beds of leaves in the woods, a common Upstate practice.
You don’t have to be from the East Coast to embrace “Hudson”, just a moviegoer who appreciates a small, earnest story about family, as a temporary break from special effects-laden blockbusters. Family undercurrents, of course, can be naturally complex, and these cousins share a surprising layer of gravitas in addition to inconsequential, one-sided arguments but also cordiality, as a beautiful score – that feels like the best of SiriusXM’s Coffee House station – keeps our toes tapping.
Yes, Levin, Lay, Greenawalt, and Cunningham are completely dialed-in during this stroll through Upstate, as the film’s simple pleasures, warm smiles and a couple of gentle tears are most certainly real.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Sean Daniel Cunningham
Written by: Sean Daniel Cunningham and Gregory Lay
Starring: David Neal Levin, Gregory Lay, Mary Catherine Greenawalt, and Jerry Masur
Runtime: 75 minutes