Starring Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek and Laura Linney The Roads Not Taken is a fascinating take on dementia and what it does to a person. Bardem stars as Leo a man who lives with dementia and on this particular day of his life his daughter Molly (Fanning) is taking care of him.
While he goes through this day the audience gets a look into what his mind is perceiving. He seems to be living several lives. One with his ex-wife Dolores (Hayek) as they try and deal with a particularly tough day in their life. His second life seems to be him in Greece trying to figure out what he should be doing with his life and finally, we have him with Molly. As he flits in between these worlds he is interacting (poorly) with these people.
It’s a saddening experience watching this man trying to desperately hold onto his faculties and what he perceives as reality. The audience gets to see what might have been with each life, and it seems that Leo never quite got life right and for him to be creating these fictional worlds that is heartbreaking. This tragedy is personified by the stellar acting by the intimate cast.
Technically Bardem is playing three versions of himself and though each one clearly has different life experiences they are inherently the same flawed man who loves the family he has in his life. Even if he is a tough man to deal with at times. Each of his scene partners are also impressive. Hayek has a tragically beautiful scene with him in a graveyard surrounded by candles and the warmth of the candles is in tragic opposition to what has happened to these two. It’s one of the highlights of cinematography and direction in the film.
Elle Fanning brings a lot of misguided warmth to her character as she tries to help her father but she clearly doesn’t understand that he does need help. Molly is a wonderful character and clearly adores her father and it shows in her affectionate scenes between the two of them as she can reach him even when he’s at his most difficult.
If I had any issues is that though the film seemingly understands the tragedy of what is happening to Leo the score doesn’t. The film will have these moments of pure tragedy, two people laying on a grave trying to find some solace in each others embrace. The film then comes in with a score that I would best describe as jovial or jaunty and it completely undercuts the moment and this happens several times throughout the film.
Another issue I found was even for a film that is only 85 minutes The Roads Not Taken felt oddly bloated. I felt that some of could have been trimmed to further help the impact of the emotional beats but that is ultimately a nitpick.
The Roads Not Taken is a fascinating film. Giving a unique take on dementia and how the mind tries to cope with it. With stellar performances from the intimate cast, it is a film I would recommend to anyone looking for something different. it’s not perfect but it doesn’t need to be.
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