The Roads Not Taken – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 25 minutes, Director – Sally Potter

The day in the life of Leo (Javier Bardem), experiencing growing dementia, as his daughter (Elle Fanning) takes him to various appointments in New York while his mind drifts back to memories of his past.

“What kind of endings do you like?” asks Javier Bardem’s Leo as he converses with someone about a novel that he’s almost completed, but is struggling to end. The Roads Not Taken is a film that while following a simply laid out – although unfolding as somewhat chaotic – day in the life of it’s main character is strongly concerned about its ending and where the central figure ends up. Throughout the film we see him staggering around, lost and confused on the busy streets of New York, and various buildings within it. His dementia has reduced him to only be able to stutter a limited amount of words, and often when in private with his daughter Molly (Elle Fanning), his head seemingly forced downwards trying to get to grips with the basics of his overwhelming surroundings. His memory is limited, although certain things, such as seeing a dog, do bring back memories – although often emotional, perhaps negative, ones. Writer-director Sally Potter’s screenplay builds to a point when someone may actually recognise Leo and treat him with some decency – instead of simply asking his daughter if everything’s alright with him, if he’s all there or even just attacking him telling him to go back to his own country after a heated set of events in a shop.

As all of this happens and the day gets thrown off course Leo finds his mind thrown back to key memories of his past, which are often sparked by some of the events or circumstances of the day. One such memory is to his life back in Mexico, to an often tense relationship with his ex-wife Delores (Salma Hayek), the tensions of which sometimes reflect the chaos of his life in the current day. The other a holiday in Greece where he continues to stumble into, and follow, a young tourist who reminds him of his daughter, who at this point in time he rarely sees due to his travels to aide his writing.

Over the course of its short 85 minute run-time the film jumps back and forth between the three time periods and events, initially seeming like a selection of ideas with little connection apart from all being told from the same perspective – something which seems to remain the case until about just over halfway through the film. While some flashbacks start with a link to the events in a different time beforehand there are others that do still occasionally feel quite jumpy; not quite with a different tone or feeling, but seemingly something else to connect with. Bardem’s character certainly isn’t a completely different personality in all three circumstances, although there are key differences, a life affected by tragedy, loss and regret shows its scars but the short amount of time that we sometimes spend in the flashbacks does mean that a bond is somewhat difficult to form.

Despite all the flashbacks and the different ideas that the film brings up there are patches that feel as if they could be explored more. Little bursts of sparks and interest as a new point is brought in, only to be quickly gotten rid of or are only lightly touched upon. The themes are kept relatively the same, not that there’s no change or exploration; but that which there is does come across as if it could go a bit deeper or show something more to increase the connection that the viewer has with the characters. Yes, there is some interest in the fact that the film only takes place over the course of one day, assisted by the view of past memories, and there are some emotional beats there; but because of the lack of connection with the characters and the one or two familiar beats within the plot. There are some decent elements within the film however not quite enough, especially in terms of an emotional connection or response. Most elements are perfectly fine and drift along rather well, however when everything comes together the punch isn’t quite there and it forms a slight distance between film and viewer. Despite some good ideas and occasional sparks the amount of jumping that the film does is overall the thing that prevents it from establishing a proper connection.

There are a number of ideas witnessed throughout The Roads Not Taken, and the film as a whole is fine. However, the lack of connection and jumpy nature do stop the viewer from feeling the full potential of the emotional beats within it.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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