Director and co-screenwriter Reichardt, working from a short story by co-screenwriter Jonathan Raymond, doesn't tackle any of the duo's issues head-on, and uses nearly as much of her scant running time depicting the vibrant landscape as she does teasing out the relationship between her two leads. At times, Old Joy plays like a wonderful travelogue more than a narrative, and the quiet nature scenes are all photographed beautifully by Peter Sillen.
Although critics have praised the film for its deceptive simplicity, Reichardt's minimalism is really not all that deceptive, and what little subtext there is generally comes second to the landscape, which Reichardt often shoots as it whizzes by outside the duo's car window. There is a certain calm pleasure in watching the passing trees and roadside stops, and part of the film's message is about getting away from the intensity of city life and appreciating the stillness of nature.
That is, to the extent that it's about anything—Reichardt's restraint is as frustrating as it is fruitful. Some movies say a lot by saying little; Old Joy seems content to just stay quiet.