The Roads Not Taken (2020) Review

Truly amazing acting from both main characters, but the nonlinear story left a little to be desired.  I am not sure I can tell you what happened at all.

Certificate: 15

Director: Sally Potter

Screenwriter: Sally Potter

Starring: Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Branka Katic

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 85 Minutes

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

Sally Potter’s THE ROADS NOT TAKEN follows a day in the life of Leo (Javier Bardem) and his daughter, Molly (Elle Fanning) as she grapples with the challenges of her father’s chaotic mind. As they weave their way through New York City, Leo’s journey takes on a hallucinatory quality as he floats through alternate lives he could have lived, leading Molly to wrestle with her own path as she considers her future. – From IMDB

The film basically follows three narratives, but only one of those narratives, the day he spends with Molly, is real.  The other two are, I think, imaginings of how Leos life could have played out had he made different decisions.  In Greece it is the story of what would have happened had he not returned home after his daughter was born, and stayed in Greece to write his book, living there for 20 years.  And in Mexico we see what his life would have been like if he had stayed with his first love Delores (I think, this is the plot line I was most confused about.)

My problem in this film is nothing to do with the acting.  Both Javier Bardem and Ell Fanning give absolutely amazing performances here.  They both have quite hard and emotional roles to play and the bulk of the film is just the two of them interacting with a few minor characters.  So, these performances needed to be good, and they were.  Without these strong performances, this would have been a total disaster.  The visuals in the film are also beautiful, especially the gorgeous dreamlike quality given to the alternate narratives told in Greece and Mexico. 

My real problem is with the narrative itself.  Out of the three, the one involving his daughter Molly is obviously the most fleshed out as it is the one that is really happening.  But as it was such a huge part of the story, it could have used some more backstory.  We are drip fed tiny bits of information, but not enough to rally get a clear picture.  And we are told even less, scraps really, of the parts of his other life.  As these plot lines are made up of fragments of broken memories of a confused and troubled mind, it is possible that this was intentional.  But then as a viewer, we need some other way to fill in the information.  Who was Delores?  How did their relationship end? Did their son ever really exist?   This film was relatively short, not even hitting an hour and a half, so there was definitely room to flesh out some of these sub plots.

I guess films like this, that tell their stories in a very nonlinear fashion are maybe just not for me and I have watched far too many of them in the last couple of weeks.  All I want in life right now is a film that tells a story in a linear fashion from start to finish and I don’t have to google things when I leave.  Is that too much to ask?

If you want to check this out for yourself, The Roads Not Taken is out in UK Cinemas now!

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