In another reality, this would probably be a good movie, but not in this one.
Javier Bardem plays Leo, a miserable sad sack, living in New York City and suffering from dementia, while gazing at his two parallel lives. That’s the set-up for “The Roads Not Taken,” which is probably the weakest entry from writer/director Sally Potter, because its presented in an unhappy state and lacks any payoff or narrative thread.
At this rate, Bardem wins us over when he suffers from the disease and when we his alternative selves, because of his sincere emotions. His weeping in select scenes sells his acting. But the supporting actors-Elle Fanning, Laura Linney, and Salma Hayek-seem to be scurrying about, making him the only bright spot of the movie. They just have to deal with the man’s pain, and we have to deal with their misery.
One life has Leo as a writer vacationing in Greece, and other has him in Mexico with him and his ex-wife (Hayek) grieving over the death of their only son. Both these versions have nowhere to go. We just see him following girls and getting on a row boat in the first life, and him walking around in the second. That’s basically it.
All we do acknowledge is that they both affected his reality for better or worse. It’s hard to comprehend which is which.
In the real world, cause that’s where he lives, his disease has his writer daughter (Fanning) on her toes. She has to bring him to the dentist, the optometrist, and the hospital; and on top of all that, her busy day with him costs her a work project she’s been working on for months. And another ex-wife of his (Linney) knows about his ex-love and his mental state. Even this world is both negative and meandering.
I suppose “The Roads Not Taken” is about decisions in life, and Bardem delivers some good work as the main protagonist. But it still didn’t mean anything to me. He’s deliver some profound work in the past like his Oscar-winning role in “No Country for Old Men,” his supporting role in “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” his lead role in “Biutiful,” and his villain role in “Skyfall.” This movie, however, doesn’t rank with them.
When we do see him in the real world, we just see him wandering about, trying to get back to his realities, while the real people try to wake him up. He nearly gets arrested for stealing a dog he thinks is his, and his daughter scolds him for driving her up the wall. My grandfather has dementia (at least my family believes he does), and I sympathize his pain, but the movie is all symptoms and very little structure.
Now, bare in mind, this movie was released last March in select artisan theaters, and because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Bleecker Street was considerate enough to let movie-goers stream it for $12. According to what I’ve seen, it’s not really worth it. It’s just a misguided project for Sally Potter.
Available for Streaming on Bleecker Street Media.