"The Road Within" Leads Past Some Dark Places Review

Road trip movies seem to always involve eccentric, unusual characters that would probably drive you crazy if you actually had to spend hours confined inside a tiny vehicle with them; however, in the context of a 90-minute film, these people often come across less annoying and more like charming, manic pixie dream boys and girls. The Road Within, a remake of the 2010 German film Vincent Wants to Sea, takes those tropes a few steps further; its vehicle is filled with dysfunctional characters who aren’t just quirky, but plagued with mental and neurological disorders. (You know, people dealing with actual problems, as opposed to just poetic musings.) Yet despite casting three talented young actors who throw themselves heart and soul into their characters and deliver performances so raw that they’re practically bloody, writer-director Gren Wells’ dark comedy-drama rarely ever veers out of already well-tread territory.

Robert Sheehan, best known as snarky lead Nathan on several seasons of the British delinquents-with-super-powers show Misfits, stars as Vincent, a young man plagued with a very severe form of Tourette’s Syndrome. You name the symptom, he has it: the obscene vocal outbursts, the socially inappropriate comments, the uncontrollable physical tics so wild that one worries that he will hurt himself or those around him. After Vincent’s beloved mother dies, his selfish politician father, Robert (Robert Patrick) decides to ship him off to an experimental clinic, run by Dr. Rose (Kyra Sedgwick). He is placed in a room with Alex (Dev Patel, in a standout performance), an uptight British man with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, and clashes with him immediately. He also encounters the mysterious Marie (Zoe Kravitz), who is in recovery for an eating disorder. After Dr. Rose threatens to force-feed Marie through a tube, and Vincent flips out on some local kids who mocked his tics, the two of them decide to steal Dr. Rose’s car and take a road trip to California, so Vincent can scatter his mother’s ashes at the beach she loved. Alex ends up a reluctant passenger in the car, which is quickly pursued by Robert and Dr. Rose.

One of my close friends has Tourette’s, albeit a much less extreme version than Vincent’s; throughout the film I kept wondering what she would think of Vincent, who seems to embody many of the stereotypes about the disorder that less-than-informed people have harassed her about over the years. Alex’s OCD is also a highly stereotypical version of the illness, all repetitive actions and insane cleanliness. Fortunately, the actors are so dedicated to their roles that they elevate any potential cliches regarding their characters. Sheehan, Kravitz and especially Patel, as the put-upon Alex, are all flawed, funny and sympathetic; they aren’t presented as saints doing the best they can with the cards they have been dealt, but rather, as awkward, oddball kids trying to figure life out while making numerous mistakes along the way.

If only the rest of the film lived up to their bold performances. Instead, The Road Within ends up a pale paint-by-numbers story of confidence and redemption, where nearly every plot point can be predicted long before it happens. Intense scenes focusing on the harsh reality of dealing with these disorders are too often immediately followed by something sickeningly sweet and totally unrealistic. Worst of all is the subplot involving Robert and Dr. Rose; naturally, this odd couple share enough touching moments--the most cringeworthy being an immature splash fight in a lake where they have lost the car keys--that Robert begins to have revelations about the cruel way he has treated his son over the years. It’s designed to make the audience feel good, but instead one feels cheated, because every single one of these moments feels ridiculously implausible and yet somehow still predictable. The Road Within has some great moments featuring its excellent trio of leads that could have elevated it from a standard road trip flick, but they’re just too few and far between.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES

The Blu-ray release of The Road Within includes interviews with the director and cast, deleted scenes, a music video and a trailer.

"The Road Within" is on sale July 7, 2015 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama. Written and directed by Gren Mills. Starring Dev Patel, Robert Sheehan, Zoe Kravitz.

Aug
25
2015
Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

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