Vincent (Robert Sheehan) was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome at a young age, but it has reached its boiling point after the premature death of his mother. His father (Robert Patrick) is in the middle of a political campaign and checks his son into a hospital. It’s there that Vincent befriends Marie (Zoe Kravitz), a young woman with an eating disorder, who steals Dr. Mia Rose’s (Kyra Sedgwick) car so that they, plus Vincent’s protesting OCD inflicted roommate Alex (Dev Patel), can escape the institution and drive to the coast.
That’s a mouth full.
It’s a lot of story to tackle in a thinly filmed movie. Possibly one of the film’s greatest assets is that it doesn’t try to beat the viewer over the head with particular messages or go to great lengths to create something maudlin. Yes, at times, the film tries to tackle more genres than it’s capable of, but it often strikes on a note that’s sincere, if not oddly timed.
Director and writer Gren Wells used details to keep my attention, sustaining my interest past the calculated moments of humor or contrived drama. The intimacy between the three characters rings remarkably true, particularly any scenes, antagonistic or not, between Sheehan and Patel. It’s the details that make those moments between the actors stick. The treatment of mental illness in film doesn’t have a fantastic track record, often with the particular illness being used to either make a lead character eccentric or making them so debilitated by it that they can hardly live their lives. Wells smartly chooses neither approach, and instead, Vincent’s Tourette’s syndrome comes across as frustrating more than debilitating.
If any one disorder suffered from the film, it was Alex’s OCD, using his need to open and close a door a number of times and his germaphobia as a means for easy gags. It would have been nicer and more in tone with the rest of the film if the characters weren’t so often harassing and laughing at the character, even if he’s written harshly for a large part of the film. Despite the tonal whiplash of the film, the dramatic moments were done with care to its characters such as the entire handling of eating disorders which, thankfully, was treated as a legitimate disease. Marie looks in the mirror and sees someone she can’t live with. Her illness is so internalized that she’s able to give off the pretense that she’s okay. What’s remarkable about the depiction is that it’s never, ever glamorized, something that popular culture and entertainment has been prone to do. She’s thin to the point her heart being in jeopardy, and even with her life threatened, she still looks in the mirror and pokes, prods and tries to fix. It’s an alarming disease, and if anything, I’m glad that this film treated it seriously.
Sheehan nails the American accent and physicality of the role, a long stretch from one of his more popular roles as Nathan in the U.K.’s Misfits. Kravitz is good and plays off of Sheehan nicely but is more of a commentator in the film. Patel shines. I mentioned in my review for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that there is absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t be offered the same roles as some of his other contemporaries, and this film proves my point yet again. He possesses a smart comic timing, and there’s a small, intimate and poignant moment between he and Sheehan that is heartwarming in a way much of the film tries to be but doesn’t fully succeed.
I wish the subplot between Mira and Robert could have had more substance to make their plot seem more consequential, but the performances pick up the slack. This film could have benefited from more time being spent with the characters in moments that were stationary rather than constantly moving forward from one problem to the next. The scenery is shot beautifully by Wells–I’m a sucker for road trip films–and the score helps elevate the story when the script runs a little bare.
The film isn’t for everyone, but it has moments of genuine heart and with performers like Sheehan and Patel isn’t one to automatically pass up.
The Road Within hits a limited release April 17th.