The Roads Not Taken? More like I wish I had not taken the road of seeing this film.
The film follows a day in the life of Leo (Bardem), a father who suffers from dementia (although the film never explicitly states it’s dementia, and rather refers to it as a chaotic mind in its plot description, it is fair to assume dementia is at fault). On this especially challenging day, Leo is accompanied by his daughter, Molly (Fanning), who doesn’t yet realize the size of her ambitions as she plans to take him to both the dentist and optometrist. Molly is faced with a number of awkward situations as she attempts to guide her father throughout the busy city of New York, and her patience is often tested. Meanwhile, Leo experiences hallucinatory daydreams of lives he could’ve lived – hence the title, The Roads Not Taken.
The performances in The Roads Not Taken are the only real redeeming factor of an otherwise muddled film. Javier Bardem gives one of the most vulnerable performances I’ve seen out of him, as he incoherently struggles with enunciation and honestly portrays the shell of the man his character was before, having now become completely reliant on his daughter and caretaker just to get out of bed in the morning. In one heart-wrenching moment at a supermarket, Bardem steals another woman’s dog believing it to be his dog from the past, and cries out its name, “Nestor!” before being tackled to the ground by a security guard. However, the scene is quickly ruined by the dog’s owner, who maliciously calls Leo a Mexican and tells him to return to his country. There’s a need for conversation on immigration, just not in this film, as writer-director Sally Potter’s race-baiting feels more randomly placed than sharply satirical or nationally introspective.
Elle Fanning is also stupendous as Molly, someone who is simultaneously attempting to balance her career with her personal life throughout the film. Fanning is committed to the role of the persevering daughter, pulling heart strings as much as her co-star. However, the development of Molly’s story outside of her relationship with her father is lazily stretched across phone calls throughout the duration of the film – we overhear she loses out on a big opportunity at her job, a sacrifice she makes for her father that lacks emotional weight due to its presentation.
Salma Hayek and Laura Linney both play women from Leo’s life, and both are underused, serving as little more than shoulders for Leo to cry on.
The Roads Not Taken wants to be a realistic depiction of what it’s like to have a loved one who suffers from dementia, but is ultimately tedious, melodramatic, and frustratingly paced with no pay off. The film also incorporates the plot device of Leo frequently imagining lives he could’ve lived, such as had he stayed with his college sweetheart in Mexico, or remained on the Greek island he fled from his wife and newborn daughter to, however, these parallel lives can too easily be interpreted as flashbacks instead and create confusion. A more interesting movie with an almost identical concept that I’d recommend stars Jared Leto and is called Mr. Nobody.
I feel bad for bashing the film as much as I have, as it is loosely based on writer-director Sally Potter’s own experiences caring for her brother who had suffered from dementia, but The Roads Not Taken cannot keep up with its own ambitions much like its character Molly, and is a missed opportunity. 5.5/10