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Review: The Road Within

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It’s rather disappointing that after screening at last summer’s Edinburgh Film Festival, heartwarming road trip drama The Road Within, only gets a home entertainment release on the various VOD platforms, although in such an oversaturated market it’s better than not having any distribution at all. The solid directorial debut of actress and screenwriter Gren Wells (2011’s A little Bit Of Help), this charming indie flick plays with your heartstrings a bit a la Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and though not matching the creative heights of the Oscar winning dramedy, it still makes for a poignant watch.

Adapted from the 2010 German film Vincent Wants To Sea (Vincent will Meer), The Road Within is a classic coming of age story of friendship and self-discovery that brings a trio of misfits together on the path to self-acceptance and self-healing. The wonderful and underrated Robert Sheehan of Channel 4’s Misfitsfame stars as Vincent, a young man affected by Tourette Syndrome who has just buried his mother and is sent to a behavioural facility to try the experimental treatment of Dr. Rose (The Closer’s Kyra Sedgwick).

Vincent is paired up with Alex (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel), a boy heavily burdened with OCD who is not at all welcoming of his new roommate invading and contaminating his “safe” space. Whilst trying to cope with Alex’s quirks, Vincent befriends Marie (Divergent and Mad Max: Fury Road’s Zoë Kravitz), a beautiful girl plagued by anorexia who drags him into an escape plan which involves stealing Dr. Rose’s car. However, the fugitives get caught in the act by Alex and have no choice but “kidnap” him along for the ride.

As imaginable, the improvised road trip becomes the adventure these lost souls need in order to figure themselves out. They establish as primary goal to reach the ocean where Vincent can scatter his beloved late mother’s ashes though he doesn’t remember the place they went to when he was a child. With no money and their respective conditions crippling them, the trio is inevitably destined to face conflict but also bond in the face of adversity. Most importantly though, they’ll have to accept how each of them has to rely just on themselves to overcome or at least learn to cope with their own issues.

Despite being a strong ensemble of characters, Vincent is still the main focus and he’s the one we learn more about. His parents had divorced and he’d been taking care of his alcoholic mother whilst his father (Terminator 2 and The X Files’ Robert Patrick) had remarried and is now pursuing a political career, neglecting Vincent and having a hard time dealing with the boy’s condition. When Dr. Rose contacts the him in the middle of his campaign, the man has no choice but go after his son. And of course, whilst in pursuit of the fugitives, the company of Dr. Rose will have a therapeutic role on his broken soul.

Surely there are several expected clichés from such a story but The Road Within never chooses the overtly sentimental path, even when it comes to the predictable romance blooming between Vincent and Marie. The focus remains on the young trio’s personal issues and that’s why probably the film could’ve benefitted from delving into the backstories of Marie and Alex as well. You may argue that time is limited and the attention might’ve shifted away too much from the alleged protagonist but the film often feels like it’s going for a tale of three broken strangers coming together to help each other heal rather just one man’s journey.

Whatever the script may lack, it’s certainly made up for by the brilliant cast that especially in such a character-driven piece is pivotal for the film to work. Sheehan confirms once again to be so good it’s a crime he’s not yet a big name star whilst Patel offers his usual relatable sensibility and humour. Kravitz continues to impress as well with each appearance and with the variety of roles she picks. Here she shows a great range and greatly complements her male counterparts with the same level of authenticity which is key to avoid falling into caricature territory when portraying characters afflicted by such peculiar conditions. Kyra Sedgwick and Robert Patrick are always fantastic and find great chemistry here, making us ache to see them more often in leading roles.

Writer/director Gren Wells shows promise and despite some of her script’s trite ingredients, she does a wonderful job at directing this talented cast and capturing the essence of their relationships believably, and for a debut that’s already a huge accomplishment. The Road Within may be your run-of-the-mill indie flick that thrives in the festival circuit but has the merit to showcase the craft of a bunch of underrated actors who deserve more visibility. For that alone it is indeed a recommended watch.

3-out-of-5

 

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