Sometimes, a filmmaker will come up with a unique, unprecedented concept and turn it into a one-of-a-kind feature. More often than not, however, the concept confounds the creative; leading to a muddled mess that disappoints the viewer even more than the average bad effort. Case in point: The Roads Not Taken. It’s the latest film from once-celebrated English filmmaker Sally Potter, a woman who once managed to turn the perplexing Orlando into a film, which makes the bungling of this project even more confusing.
The Roads Not Taken follows a day in the life of Leo (Javier Bardem), a man suffering from early on-set dementia, and his daughter Molly (Elle Fanning), who tries to take care of him, as he goes to doctors’ appointments and has dissociative episodes throughout the day. This is coupled with flashes to parallel versions of Leo’s life – at other times, in other places, with other people. This is meant to be seen as an extension of the dementia but, unfortunately, these elements are not blended properly and result in cinematic whiplash. Each time the viewer finds themselves comfortable with a part of the narrative, it skips to another; frequently giving into misery porn or shoehorned topicality caused by the disconnect.
It is, of course, extremely disappointing not just because of the interesting concept, but also because Bardem and Fanning both give incredible performances. While great actors like Laura Linney, Salma Hayek and Chris Rock appear throughout, The Roads Not Taken is at its strongest when the two protagonists interact with nothing else to distract from them. Those scenes begin and end the film, but they ultimately feel unearned because there is very little connecting them throughout.
Ultimately, a film like The Roads Not Taken is so much more maddening a view than the average below-average film because it has all the necessities for success – great performers, lauded filmmaker, and an interesting concept. But, simply, the movie’s ingredients just don’t mix.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam