JDIFF Review – The Road Within

When his mother dies, Vincent (Robert Sheehan) finds himself at the mercy of his father and, since his father struggles to understand or cope with his Tourette’s, is confined to a clinic to try and control his condition. While there, Vincent meets germophobe Alex (Dev Patel) and Marie (Zoe Kravtiz) who is struggling with anorexia. It’s not long before Vincent and the gang embark on a road trip, to escape those who try to control them and for Vincent to bring his mother’s ashes to the ocean.

The Road Within is a remake of German film Vincent Wants to Sea – an infinitely better title by the way – from first time director Gren Wells. The story follows three young people, each with their own struggle, who are brought together as they try to escape.

Robert Sheehan not only manages the American accent well for his character, but makes the physical and vocal tics his character suffers from believable and never unintentionally funny. This is no mean feat, since Tourette’s has long been a go to for uninspired comedy, but Sheehan makes Vincent warm and real and, underneath it all, just another young man struggling with grief. Dev Patel brings a lot of over the top comedy as Alex, and has the perfect physicality to make this character funny and touching. Zoe Kravitz plays the rebel girl whose rebellion may well be killing her, and does well for her part. The rest of the cast is made up of Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Patrick and Ali Hillis.

The story feels like any coming of age road trip movie you care to mention since, underneath the fact that these kids are running away from being controlled and running toward a life that is wildly unpredictable, this really is the time when these characters come of age; they speak to one another like real people, tease each other and manage to laugh at the idiosyncrasies that control their lives. There is plenty of sweetness in Gren Wells’ script, but there are also hints of tragedy and loss. That said, there are times when the entire affair feels a little predictable and although the film does not tie up in the neat little bow that it could have.

As director, Gren Wells focuses on the comedy and the absurdity of these three mismatched people finding themselves on the road together. There are times when the deeper motion is allowed to show through, but these are mere hints and the darkness underneath these characters. The performances are strong though and, backed up by Christopher Baffa’s lovely cinematography, The Road Within is a charming little indie comedy.

In all, The Road Within could have benefitted from a better title, and often oversimplifies the issues we struggle with in life but, anchored with strong performances from Sheehan, Patel and Kravitz – and the strong chemistry between them – the film is a sweet little charmer, even if there is very little of the characters’ ‘within’ revealed to the audience.

Rating: 3/5

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