Gren Wells' 2014 ‘coming-of-age’ film The Road Within ambitiously takes on the sensitive topic of mental health with a promising genre twist, however fails to deliver on that promises with shallow writing and plot. The end result is a half baked road-trip film full of forgettable moments, cliché moments with very few few ‘moments of beauty’ scattered within it. Furthermore, the visual effects are amateur and obvious, drawing on notes of over stylisation while trying to heighten the realism of the delivery of it's characters. This disables the suspension of disbelief quickly, drawing you in and throwing you out like a roller-coaster. The film's pace flickers so much it becomes difficult to relate and follow at times, presenting 'blink and you'll miss it' moments seemly at random. It’s not all bad though and, despite the mediocre presentation, it is a very entertaining ride from start to near finish. With an A-list cast and on-point performances from Robert Sheehan, Zoe Kravitz and Deb Patel, The Road Within's portrayal of the real-world frustration experienced by people living with and managing mental disorders is incredible.
The film follows Vincent (Robert Sheehan) who suffers from a severe case of Tourette syndrome which seems to be triggered by stressful situations. After his mother's death and embarrassing himself with his ticks at his mothers funeral, Vincent is admitted to a behavioural facility by his father who is impatient with this son's condition (almost abusive towards him). At the facility Vincent get's boarded up with Alex (Dev Patel) who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and germaphobia. Knowing him and Alex are not going to click, Vincent becomes friends with co-admittee Marie (Zoë Kravitz), who has an eating disorder. Ultimately, all three end up breaking out of the facility by stealing a doctor's car and go on a road trip towards the ocean in Santa Cruz, where Vincent plans on spreading his mother's ashes. A cat-and-mouse chase soon forms as Vincent's father, Robert, and their doctor Rose purse them across the country. Everyone, including the doctor and father, go through an emotional journey of self discovery and strengthen their relationships as a result.
In the end, the film leaves supporting characters and plot points as bland, expecting the audience to just accept the shallowness of the subplot each person presents. For example, Vincent’s father Robert struggled with having a son with Tourette's Syndrome and as a result neglected him, but the moment he opens up about this and his self loath of wanting a ‘normal son', his disconnect with his son is magically fixed. The story takes these unbelievable turns again and again, and while a once-off approach can usually be accepted as a ‘believable conscience', the film does the same trope continuously, feeling lazy and outlandish. The story builds up so far that so many opportunities are just forgotten or ignored once the plot plays out. The relationships and characters that the film builds so slowly and carefully throughout, become suddenly resolved without equal care or depth. This ruins the entire experience of getting to know these interesting characters to begin with, leaving you robbed from caring to begin with. It’s like ‘that’s that folks' and a new narrative begins. A disappointing conclusion to such a potentially great line up and build.
The best thing about this film is the acting. Robert Sheehan, Zoe Kravitz and Deb Patel portrayal of their character's struggles is brilliantly relatable. Sheehan’s Tourette's feels like ‘ticks’ and not just random outbursts, Patel’s portrayal of OCD feels like he is struggling with it immensely and each repetitive action is 'nails-on-a-chalkboard' for him, and Kravitz’s portrayal of Anorexia feels like she has accepted it, hates it deeply and doesn’t try to justify it but her mind won't let her eat. Mental disorders are often used in films and TV to make characters stand out with extraordinary power, but here these characters just want to fit in. As the film progresses, their conditions become more accepted by themselves and they evidently grow to accept their limitations. They want to be what they believe as ‘normal’ but discover that their 'normal' is just the hand they have been dealt. They want to be socially acceptable and manage their socially alien tropes and be socially accept, and the theatrical performances from these three young actors nail at every feel. You can relate to the ugliness of struggling with your own brain, and empathise with them in more ways then none - and this is all done through subtext.
The Road Within is not a good movie, but an entertaining one. The writing doesn’t hit the mark, however it is fair to say it does have some great moments and scenes scattered within. In the end, it does leave you feeling empty and unresolved as the plot and characters fall apart. While understanding the intention and direction the film wanted to take, its pace is so inconsistent it feels rushed and its story quickly crumbles as a result. It is disappointing too because you begin to really care about these characters and their struggles, and the performances are brilliant. They are let down by a mediocre film structure and shallow plot. Maybe The Road Within was meant to be a midday movie run but got caught up in the cinema - nevertheless its misses the point and my praise.