Early in the movie, Tucker and Dale are pulled over, and the policeman asks Tucker for his license. Tucker reaches into the glove box. “I lost my license a while back and a new one is in the mail. I have a temporary.”
This odd detail has always stood out. Why? Why not simply have written it that Tucker hands over his license? The fun of movies is that someone put things in for a reason, whether they work or not to specific viewers, they were meant to accomplish something. So what was accomplished here? I think a few things.
1. It’s unexpected. As the guy in Airplane! said when asked if they should turn on the landing lights when the plane was coming in: “No. That’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”
2. It creates a ghost moment of back story for Tucker. Most of us know the sinking feeling of losing something as important as a driver’s license. You get over it but there is a moment of feeling distraught. Tucker had that moment and has gotten over it.
3. It acts as an intrigant. It presents questions we sit in our chairs waiting to have answered. Are we going to discover the circumstances of how he lost it? Is this lost license going to play a further role? Even though both answers turn out to be no, we’re still drawn in.
4. It helps us suspend our disbelief and creates movie magic where what we’re watching feels real when we know it isn’t. What are the chances we ran into this guy in the brief time between him losing his license and not yet receiving his new one? Too slim. It sounds too made up. Since it sounds too made up it seems more real than it would have seemed if he’d simply handed over a license, which by being more likely and sounding less made up, we would view as more made up.
5. I also think, and this one is a reach (the others weren’t???), that it catches us making assumptions about Tucker. It mirrors the scene before when the college kids first see Tucker and Dale and dismiss them as stereotypical “rednecks.” We’re passengers then. We didn’t make those judgments, we watched them make them. We even felt superior because we didn’t make them. But then we learn that Tucker has lost his license, a mistake we can all identify with, and he has followed all proper steps to get a replacement. Maybe a phone call to the BMV to find out what steps to take and then a trip down to fill out the paperwork and then he had the temporary in a designated spot in his glove box for the unlikely event that he would need to show it to an officer of the law. And aren’t we at least a little surprised by that degree of responsibility shown by a “redneck” driving a beat up truck into the woods to drink and fish? Shame on us! And that’s a recurring theme in the movie is the failure of quick assumptions based on stereotypes in getting to the truth.
6. Lastly it starts Tucker talking to the officer, which lets the next line flow more smoothly: “We’re headed up to our cabin to do some fishing. Dale here’s been striking out with the ladies, I figure a little man time might do him some good.”
That’s all I have but maybe there’s even more. Already not bad for one line.