A middling but pleasant enough ride through familiar territory, “How I Got Lost” follows two twentysomething buds who temporarily flee New York to work through personal issues of grief, romantic angst and contempo malaise. Elaborating on his 2005 short, writer-director Joe Leonard aspires to make a generational statement about the young Gothamites whose dreams and illusions were dashed in the wake of 9/11, but the film’s bid for profundity feels precious at best, bookending what is essentially a conventional road-trip drama. Still, the trip is scenic and the drama generally well played, spelling fest play and possible tube/homevid interest.
Opening with an invocation of Sept. 11, 2001, and ending with a re-creation of the Northeast mass blackout on Aug. 14, 2003, “How I Got Lost” views the period in between through the jaded eyes of sensitive dude Jake (Jacob Fishel) and his less stable best friend, Andrew (Aaron Stanford, from the “X-Men” movies).
Jake, a sportswriter and aspiring novelist, is hung up on Sarah (Nicole Vicius), the fetching blonde he met the day after 9/11, who has since become a maddeningly elusive tease. Drippy flashbacks to their blissful early days together, accompanied by moony voiceover (“It was like planes going into buildings were just an excuse for us to find each other”), don’t inspire the viewer’s confidence. Nor does the image of Jake pounding away at a typewriter, which makes for a very poetic anachronism indeed. Fortunately, it gets better.
Late one night after much drinking, Andrew convinces Jake to join him in blowing off the city for a while, declaring that their goals and well-laid plans have been the source of all their disappointment. The two set out on a journey that will take them through Philadelphia en route to rural Ohio, where the real reason for their trip becomes apparent.
None of the scenes that follow — an angry outburst at a public gathering, Jake’s flirtation with a fetching small-town waitress (an appealing Rosemarie DeWitt) — is particularly surprising. But as nicely enacted by Fishel and Stanford, the relationship between the two characters — one blandly likable, the other thorny and impulsive — has a core integrity that sustains the story through its predictable stretches.
Until, that is, the film squanders the duo’s credibility with a final twist that is at once a strange coincidence and a risible cliche. Jake’s closing ruminations on life and personal happiness, though poignant, in this context play like tacked-on philosophizing rather than an intelligent reckoning with his adventures thus far.
Lensed by d.p. Christopher Chambers on the Red-One camera, the visually polished pic achieves the desired contrast between the hustle-and-bustle of New York and the characters’ countryside idyll (shot in Leonard’s native St. Louis).