So, I did the unthinkable last night, I watched a remake of a foreign movie before viewing the original. The Road Within is a remake of the 2010 German film, Vincent Wants to Sea, and I’ve heard it is a very faithful adaptation. Anyway, if that is the case, I might as well cross Vincent off my itinerary. The Road Within may be an independent film, but it feels as pedestrian as they come.
Let’s cut to the chase; the real problem here isn’t the script (trite and hokey as it is,) but Dev Patel. Fucking Dev Patel, man, Robert Sheehan plays Vincent, a Tourette’s Syndrome victim with a anger management problem in this movie, and he’s quite good. He’s making a monumental effort against a weak script with his solid performance.
Following his alcoholic mother’s death, Vincent is sent to a behavioral therapy program by his cold-hearted politician father (Robert Patrick) and so sooner has he been dropped off and virtually abandoned by pops he befriends a flirty pixyish anorexic (Zoe Kravitz) and hits the road in his therapist’s stolen car to scatter his mother’s ashes at sea.
Of course there’s one small problem, besides that whole ‘wanted felons in a stolen car’ thing. Vincent and the Anorexic, Marie have taken Vincent’s annoying roommate, Alex (Dev Patel) with them, quite forcibly (to prevent him from narcing them out to the doctors at the facility,) and that’s where the film really falters.
Don’t watch this if you’re an Obsessive-compulsive Disorder victim like me; it will just infuriate and baffle you. Alex is a pedantic clean freak who suffers from OCD, and that’s where the filmmaker’s development of his character ends. His character more often than not provides some kind of ghastly slapstick, his eyes bulging out like a deranged Marty Feldman incarnate, jumping about comically like a spastic and screaming about ‘poo’ and ‘contamination’ whenever someone touches him.
It’s pretty much the tackiest OCD stereotype one can imagine, and I felt almost embarrassed for the actor and the filmmaker in that (a they treated a complex and serious illness this way and (b that they thought people with OCD actually act like this. While Sheehan’s part is underwritten and pretty cliche as far as depictions of Tourette’s Syndrome go (choosing to portray the uncontrollable cursing that sometimes- but not typically- goes with the illness,) his character is written with some finesse and sympathy, and the actor creates a somewhat likable protagonist with admittedly limited resources. He seems, more or less, like someone who could exist in the real world.
Contrary to this movie’s depiction of OCD, people suffering from the illness are not psychotic or retarded (we may in fact be borderline crazy, if ‘insanity’ is defined by having an unfortunate mental condition that hinders our day-to-day functioning, but I desist.) The director, Gren Wells, could just as well have hired Adam Sandler (Happy Madison productions Sandler, not Punch-Drunk Love Sandler) to play Alex and it probably would have been just as convincing a portrayal. Patel’s shtick gets old fast, and by fast I mean the minute he’s introduced into the movie.
Besides the unfortunate depiction of certain psychological conditions, the setup of The Road Within is painfully standard, with characters apparently reaching recovery from a healing road trip and lots and lots of big discussions about the trio’s illnesses effect on their lives. Robert Patrick does a good job (and actually has a touching monologue near the end) but his character is just too unbelievable, going full circle from uncaring jerk to genuinely loving dad thanks to a few short conversations with Vincent’s shrink (Kyra Sedgwick.) The transformation just isn’t plausible with you consider the father, Robert’s years of being a total asshole to his son.
It all ties into a neat tidy bundle at the end and despite some good scenes and performances, ultimately has little to say about the character’s conditions. Comedies, whether convivial or dark, about mental illness can be effective; just look at Benny & Joon, The Silver Linings Playbook, and The bizarro black comedy The Voices. The Voices was offensive as offensive can be, but it didn’t try to be anything other than a pitch black comedy. The Silver Linings Playbook performed the high wire act between being light and funny and not trivializing the characters’ illnesses. The Road Within has it’s moments, but ultimately it’s just not a substantial flick, obtaining cheap laughs from the character’s respective maladies and telling a well-meaning yet tired story with no real surprises.