The Venn diagram of things I like and things car lovers like is very nearly two separate circles. To me, a V8 is just a weird tomato drink, and I don’t understand why sometimes there are less than eight of whatever Vs are. The fact that I can check the oil level and tire pressure feels like a big accomplishment to me. However, one place the circles might overlap would be racing movies, especially the Fast & Furious franchise. If I had any shame, I might consider this series my guilty pleasure. They are continuously problematic in their portrayal of women and their glorification of reckless (but not wreck-less) driving. The ridiculousness of the now eight films’ plotlines, exhibited in the complicated naming of each film, the preposterous stunts, and the soap operatic plot devices, require extensive suspension of disbelief. Despite all of these issues, I find myself uncharacteristically excited about these goofy characters and their cars every time a new movie comes out, or I decide to re-watch one of the older films.
Fast & Furious began in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious. In the sixteen years since, it has had seven sequels, the most recent of which, The Fate of the Furious, came out this month. I first encountered the series in middle school. At the time, I was in the midst of a “car phase,” where I pretended to like cars to fit in with my hegemonically-masculine peers, even though I neither knew anything about them, nor could legally drive one. Though I was determined to enjoy the movies regardless of any actual interest in them, on watching the first few, I became invested. I remember going to see the third film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in theatres with some of my friends and absolutely loving it. When it came out, I bought the DVD/Soundtrack combo pack and watched and listened to it on repeat on my portable DVD/CD player. Even then, it was not the cars or the stunts that drew me in, though these were fun to see; rather, the characters were the ones I loved.
Admittedly, there is a touch of nostalgia in my love for this franchise, although my car phase is not one I would ever like to relive. In the years since, the films have moved from being simply a progression of one spectacle after the next (though these spectacles are still a huge part, e.g. skydiving in cars). In response to the missteps of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, generally regarded as the franchise’s weakest films, the series has doubled down on its family focus. Dom Toretto, one of the main characters in the series, states the franchise’s theme in Furious 7: “I don’t have friends; I got family.” The most touching aspect of the Fast & Furious films is the idea that one can choose one’s own true family, and that this family is as legitimate as blood relatives. For Dom and his sister, Mia, who lost both of their parents when they were young, building a new family is one of their most important enterprises. As the series progresses, people enter and leave their lives, but the most important ones, like Brian O’Conner, Letty Ortiz, Roman Pearce, and Han Seoul-Oh, are always around when they are needed. That they happen to build their family around cars is almost incidental to the love and endurance (though people seem to die and come back a lot) that keep them together. In the end, the films are not just about cars or being fast, but about finding a “ride or die” of one’s own.