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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Film Review: The Odd Way Home

The Odd Way Home is an unusual character-driven road film starring Rumer Willis as Maya, a young woman with dreams of someday making it big, and Chris Marquette as Duncan, an autistic man who lives with his grandmother.

The film opens with an intense scene of violence in which Maya is yanked out of the bath tub and beaten by her boyfriend. It is shown in shades of grey, the color drained from the scene as an indication of the state of deterioration and despair in that home. She then, understandably, packs her things and leaves, and the contrast of the bright day of that scene also helps give the sense that she’s making the right decision (though she takes a gun and some pills, so clearly she’s not ready to completely move on).

We then meet Duncan, who is spending significant time and energy brushing his teeth (even using professional dental equipment), something he films himself doing. He lives with his grandmother and works in a convenience store, where he has photos of a woman making different expressions, with the corresponding emotions written on the photos – “Angry,” “Sad,” and so on - to help him with his interactions with customers. He also has a passion for drawing maps.

When Maya’s truck breaks down, she sets out on foot, and the first house she comes upon is Duncan’s. She enters in order to use their phone, but finds the only occupant (Duncan’s grandmother) dead, and so helps herself to money, medication, and the truck she finds out back. But as she drives down the road, she discovers that Duncan is in the back, brushing his teeth. He, in fact, lives in the back of the truck. She asks him, “You live in this thing?” He says: “Are you angry? I don’t see angry very well.”

She drives him back home, where she discovers a check made out to Duncan for $3,000, a check from his father. She then takes him and the truck. And at this point the film becomes sort of a strange road movie. I figured she’d just drive him to a bank and have him cash the check so she could take the money. But no, they hit the road. It’s not entirely clear why she chooses to take him as a companion. At one point he leaves her and she gets upset, telling him never to do that again. But what hasn’t been established is what in her character or history makes her connect to this guy so strongly so quickly and makes her feel responsible for him. That, for me, is the film’s major flaw.

There is also some clunky dialogue, as when an ex-boyfriend tells Maya: “The world will embrace you one day, Maya, and I will forever be proud of you.” Maya had left her small-town existence in order to make it as a singer, and so Dave, her ex-boyfriend, has her perform in his bar. But then suddenly she and Duncan are on the road again, without any explanation or farewell to Dave.

But the characters are endearing and interesting enough that the film manages to basically overcome these problems. The movie has a lot of heart, and is centered on the two unusual characters and their developing friendship. And it does not become a film about Maya pursuing her dreams, but rather dealing with her past, as well as Duncan’s past. They visit Duncan’s father, who has a new family and offers them money to basically disappear. Yeah, he’s quite a piece of work, but he’s played well by Bruce Altman. And there is a wonderful moment after Duncan takes his father’s globe and says, “Thank you for the world.” As Duncan and Maya leave, there is just the hint of a smile from Duncan’s father, which is a very nice touch, making him more human.

The film has a good supporting cast, particularly Bruce Altman as Duncan’s father, Veronica Cartwright as Maya’s mother (though she has some bad lines to deliver), and Dave Vescio as a man they encounter along the way. And there is a reference to Being There, when Duncan says that a man keeps calling him Chauncy and asking him to work on his garden.

The Odd Way Home was directed by Rajeev Nirmalakhandan, and was released on DVD on June 24, 2014.

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