I learned something from Tramps. It turns out if you drive a “fucking SUV,” it means you’re an asshole.
That line alone says a lot about the class divide crossed in this indie romance. Adam Leon’s brief, punchy and charming film is a great love story between two cynical young people, but it also examines why so often there’s bitterness and distance between poor and rich people. Tramps is a movie that inspires its protagonists to reach for better lives than the crappy ones they’ve got, even as they look down their noses at those on the other side of the tracks.
When we first meet Danny (Callum Turner), he’s stuck running a bootleg, off-track-betting parlor out of his mom’s New York apartment. When all the old men from the building leave, he glares at his mom as though asking, “How did I get stuck in this life?” Then he gets a call from prison from his deadbeat brother begging him to do a probably illegal job. Pick up a suitcase, hop inside a car, and drop the suitcase off with a woman. The details are hilariously scant, but “he doesn’t have a choice.”
Then there’s Ellie (Grace Van Patten). One moment she’s on a train, and when the conductor arrives, in the blink of an eye she’s gone, hiding in the bathroom for a few more stops. She’s so poor and has enough problems with money that she can’t sort out the real problems in her life. One is some guy named Scott (Mike Birbiglia) pressuring her to be the wheelman in the same suitcase scam as Danny. He’s berating her all the while offering her a spot in his “queen-size bed.”
Danny and Ellie meet on the job, but when Danny drops off the suitcase with the wrong woman, they scramble to try and find it as two reluctant partners. This simple premise allows them ample time on the road together to get to know each other and realize they can choose better lives than tracking down a suitcase for some loser crooks.
Director Adam Leon’s film is made with scrappy, on-the-fly filmmaking. It’s all shot through windows and behind back seats. When Danny tries to small talk and flirt with Ellie, she’s so curt, cynical and guarded that she doesn’t even tell Danny her name. As they move from place to place without much of an idea of how to find the suitcase, they carry with them a sense of frustration as though their whole lives have demanded they live like, well, tramps.
Tramps finds a new dimension when Danny and Ellie reach the suspected home of the woman they believe mistakenly took the suitcase. It’s a glorious villa upstate, and they’re just let inside by a blasé teen who thinks they’re servants. Leon manages miniature, profound insights about class dynamics as Danny and Ellie explore the home. They see some pet fish and wonder why someone would keep an animal, only for it to die quickly. “Maybe let them be sad about something small so that they’re less sad about the big stuff?” That’s a choice and a thought people above a certain pay grade never even consider. When back on the road, they stop at a diner and ask across the table, “Kids menu or appetizers?
Callum Turner is the real revelation of Tramps. He’s not part of the Apatow man-child group or the cocky Tom Cruise types. He’s tall, lanky, Eastern European and looks perpetually dumbstruck and humbled as he becomes visibly infatuated with Ellie. He’s an unusual leading man and yet can play the dope or the charming jock.
Tramps is a welcome trip to the other side of the tracks, and at just 82 minutes and streaming now on Netflix, it’s a quick, worthwhile vignette that will linger a lot longer.
3 ½ stars