UK Release Date: 15th February 2016
Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Gren Wells
Writer: Gren Wells
Starring: Robert Sheehan, Zoe Kravitz, Dev Patel, Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Patrick
Synopsis: Three young people living with different mental illnesses embark on a road trip together after stealing a car from their treatment centre.
Films about people with mental illnesses are very difficult to pull off. There’s a tricky balance to be struck between wanting to depict the realities of people’s lives and not wanting to alienate the audience. The Road Within, which focuses on a trio of young people who defy their conditions as they head off on a road trip, walks that line carefully and just about ends up on the right side.
The Road Within is now hitting VOD platforms in the UK courtesy of Arrow Films.
Vincent (Robert Sheehan) is enrolled into a behavioural facility by his father (Robert Patrick), who struggles to deal with Vincent’s Tourette’s Syndrome. The facility doctor (Kyra Sedgwick) puts him into a room with Alex (Dev Patel), who has obsessive compulsive disorder. Vincent befriends anorexic Marie (Zoë Kravitz) and they steal the doctor’s car. With Alex in tow, they embark on a bizarre road trip across America.
Relaxing is the one thing I simply cannot do.
To begin with, The Road Within looks like it could be a deeply irritating film. Sheehan and Patel’s performances are both cranked all the way up to eleven, with Patel screaming at everything and Sheehan ticcing like a man possessed. Thankfully, the film provides enough in the way of character depth to offset all of this. They are also helped by Kravitz, who takes her troubled character and gives her real nuance. Kravitz dropped to 90 pounds to play the role, but more impressive is her ability to play not only the cool girl facade of Marie, but the turmoil underneath.
This trio of performances is what gives The Road Within its intrigue. The script is largely the standard trite, sun-dappled dramedy that fills the Sundance Film Festival every year, but it’s elevated by the chemistry between the cast members. Over time, they create a real sympathy for the characters that makes their journey more important than simply three people driving a car across America.
Unfortunately, despite all of this chemistry, the story never quite rings true. There’s a sense that everything about The Road Within is manufactured and artificial. The cinematography is just a little too sun-dappled, the script a little too over-written and the performances a little too precision-tooled to reflect the realities of mental illness. It feels like a film that was created in a lab and, despite all of the hard work of the cast, it struggles to be anything more than a well-crafted movie that exists without any real edge.
We all have issues.
It’s a shame that The Road Within never quite manages to come together as a truly emotional tale. It is, however, a witty take on a difficult topic populated by characters who are flawed, identifiable and worth caring about. Gren Wells elicits good performances from his cast and creates a film that creeps up on its audience with a sucker punch that does manage to get to the heart.
Pop or Poop?
The performances are strong, albeit occasionally forced, but they elevate the material in the script far beyond what it would have otherwise been. By the time the distinctly predictable finale kicks in, the film has worked something of a spell. It doesn’t stick in the mind much once the credits roll, but it works well in the moment.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Road Within is available on a number of digital platforms now.