Affecting memories and good intentions don’t always add up to good screen stories, and such is the case in 1969, one of the murkiest reflections on the Vietnam War era yet, notwithstanding good performances all around and bright packaging of Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Downey Jr in the leads.
Director-screenwriter Ernest Thompson (On Golden Pond) has a wonderful feel for the relationships. It’s only when it comes time to deliver a screen-size story that things go goofy.
College students and best pals Scott (Sutherland) and Ralph (Downey) have adopted a lifestyle in sharp contrast to the buttoned-down mores of their families in a small Maryland town 83 miles away. When they hitchhike home, there’s conflict, particularly between Scott and his older brother Alden (Christopher Wynne, in an extremely unsympathetic turn), who’s shipping out for the war.
Story is not exactly gripping. Instead, it’s a mild trip down memory lane as the two hit the road in a psychedelic van to taste America in their last ‘summer of innocence.’
Sutherland gives one of his best and most natural performances, and Downey is very good in a role that’s similar to his Less Than Zero junkie, but gives him less to work with. Joanna Cassidy gives a topnotch performance as Ralph’s spunky, effervescent and slightly liberated mother, and Winona Ryder is a scene-stealer as younger sister Beth, who’s the only one with any ideas.