Mercer White is one lucky guy. Sure, his long-absent older brother is a scumbag and crook, and his sort-of girlfriend is making porn videos with her cousin. Oh, and his mom just died after a long and awful illness.
But when Mercer steals a Volvo station wagon at a Eugene, Oregon carwash, the car's owner calls the cell phone left inside—and she turns out to be Zooey Deschanel! Jackpot! What's more, Deschanel's character is probably the nicest person in the world. She's not angry with Mercer—she doesn't even call the cops. They make an agreement: As Mercer drives south to look for his brother, he'll recount his adventures for her over the phone.
It's a small, somewhat precious twist on the familiar road trip movie, but The Go-Getter has a lot going for it. The script, by Oregonian director Martin Hynes, is often hilarious as it deals with the various stragglers and misfits left behind by Mercer's brother, including Maura Tierney and accordionist Corn Mo as drug addicts/pet store owners/Christian musicians. (Side note: Corn Mo should be in every movie ever made, ever.)
The performances are uniformly strong across the board. Lou Taylor Pucci as Mercer is credible and heartfelt. Jena Malone plays Mercer's friend from middle school in a ridiculously sexy performance that culminates in her, Pucci, and Deschanel reenacting the dance scene from Godard's Band of Outsiders (it makes sense when you see it, sort of). Deschanel's She & Him bandmate, M. Ward, is onscreen for only a couple seconds, but his gorgeous soundtrack becomes a character of its own, as sun-flared and dreamlike as the unfussy but effective photography.
Hynes capably juggles different narrative forms, including dreams, flashbacks, an ecstasy trip, and a book-on-tape voiceover, and the film never suffers from sentimentality as it deals with some of the sadder aspects of Mercer's past. And Deschanel is almost unfairly appealing: Her character is something of an angel, so when Deschanel is able to make her human, she's irresistible. It's easy to put ourselves in Mercer's shoes as he falls in love with her, but The Go-Getter also manages to keep us in his shoes for the rest of his journey. It's a coming-of-age story that sticks, and grows, with you.