Last month, I found myself trapped in a Phoenix elevator during the one hundred degree heat with five other people and a nine month pregnant woman. While it was alarming to say the least, the entire situation seemed so unreal that for the twenty minute ordeal, we found ourselves both trying to resourcefully come up with ways out, use humorous defense mechanisms and mostly stay stagnant in disbelief. This being said, it felt like something out of a movie and since then I’ve found myself intrigued by movies that arbitrary stick people together and watch how they respond. While it seems like a great opportunity for characters to open up, the strangers and I never shared as much as a first name although no doubt that would’ve changed had the woman gone into labor so it was entertaining to watch how quickly the fictitious characters in Craig Serling’s Jam began exchanging extremely personal information. Craig Serling (whose relative is the legendary and imaginative television pioneer Rod Serling) followed in Rod’s footsteps editing television shows ranging from Survivor to The Amazing Race and eventually created a short film in 2004 entitled Jam.
Working with co-writer Nicole Lonner, he took the premise of the short about a lesbian who goes into labor during a traffic jam and she and her partner try to deliver the baby safely and decided to revisit the same imaginary jam and explore the stories of other drivers and passengers on a hot day when stalled on a rural mountain road after a dog darts into traffic, causing a swerve and crash that brings dangerous live power lines to the ground.
Ironically, the plot of the short film is the least believable of the longer version of Jam as the two hippie women enlist the help of criminals hiding out in a stolen RV to deliver the child au natural and instead we find ourselves drawn in to a few of the more powerful stories including one about a good-natured and hard-working father who, divorced from a wife he still may have feelings for, tries to let his kids know that he’s accepted a promotion and will be seeing them even less. Taking place on Father’s Day, this admittedly episodic film has some moments that are too preposterous to be believed and characters who seem to be cardboard cutouts going through the motions but the script is admirable and the goal of introducing us to fifteen wildly diverse travelers at major crossroads in their own lives undoubtedly helped the screenwriters earn the 2006 Independent Spirit Award from the Santa Fe Film Festival.
The cast includes some familiar faces and impressive newcomers including Christopher Amitrano, Alex Rocco, Jonathan Silverman, Gina Torres, Tess Harper, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste that all help remind us that—similar to the REM song by the same name that also featured a huge traffic jam in its popular 90’s music video— everybody hurts.