At first glance, the formula for the new film A Walk in the Woods looks to be a familiar one: Two long-lost friends take a trip together and discover things about each other and themselves along the way while becoming involved in an escalating number of hilarious situations. It sounds like your typical buddy road comedy, but when you take into account the fact that the movie stars acclaimed actors Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as the two friends, takes place during a challenging hike along the Appalachian Trail, and features some heavy ideas, that label no longer seems to fit. According to director Ken Kwapis, who's no stranger to that genre (he directed He's Just Not That Into You and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, among others), that was the goal all along.
"I tried not to think too much about other films [while making the movie]. There certainly are road movies, and journey movies that I've loved, but not necessarily buddy pictures... I definitely did not think of it in terms of 1980s buddy pictures," Kwapis tells Bustle. "I thought it's really a story about three characters: Bryson (Robert Redford), Katz (Nick Nolte), and the Appalachian Trail. So in that sense... I maybe consciously wanted to avoid [the buddy comedy genre] ... it's about how these two men interact with this other awesome character. And how this third character somehow informs their emotional journey."
It's that emotional journey that truly forms the basis for the film, more so than the comedy aspect, says Kwapis.
"I felt like I needed to create an emotional map, an emotional trail that these two guys followed," the director says. "In the rehearsal process with Bob and Nick, we didn't talk about staging scenes, we discussed the emotional arc that these two characters follow and created emotional signposts along the way."
Kwapis credits the script with enabling the film to balance its emotional heft with its lighter comedic moments in a way that feels natural to the audience.
"The other thing too, and I have to give credit to our screenwriter Bill Holderman, is the script has a light surface. There are comedic scenes, but I think the script has really strong emotional content, but it sneaks up on you. The film doesn't announce itself," Kwapis says. "So one of the nice things about it is when you finally get to the climactic scenes ... the issues of lost time ... or the issue of taking stock of your life, thinking about the roads you did or didn't take, these are kind of meaty issues and I think the audience is ready for them to take center stage at that point."
A Walk in the Woods may be a comedy about buddies on the road together, but it's no buddy road comedy. Ken Kwapis strives for something deeper in his new film, and he may have even created a new genre in the process.
Images: Broad Green Pictures