Molly (Elle Fanning) has a big day planned with her father Leo (Javier Bardem). They have two doctor’s appointments, which is quite a challenge for and with Leo as he has early onset dementia. Molly does her best, but not everything works well – neither with Leo nor with her job that she is neglecting for her father. Meanwhile Leo is living alternative lives that make him re-examine the biggest life choices he made.
The Roads Not Taken is a beautifully acted, interesting film that focused too much on Leo for me – and not enough on Molly.
The Roads Not Taken is an unusual take on dementia by having Leo be confused about what was and what might have been if he had made different decisions in his life. To anybody but him, this fantasy life inside him remains closed off and he can’t really communicate it. Molly can connect some names to his life, but has no clue of the meaning they hold at that moment for Leo. It is as take on dementia that gives Leo a lot more inner life than the usual “they just don’t remember” portrayal of it. But it is also a little confusing for the audience. If you aren’t clued in about the “alternate lives” part, you will be reading the different strands as memories and try to puzzle out chronologies that never really work (they can’t and aren’t supposed to).
The film is very clear about the difficulties of caring for somebody with dementia. There is definitely no romanticizing about that, and neither is there a narrative of Molly the heroine who sacrifices herself for her disabled father. Yes, she makes sacrifices, but there is nothing noble about it – there is only necessity.
While I found both angles of the story intriguing, I would have preferred if the film had given us a little more insight into Molly’s life outside of her caring position and generally stuck with her more. Especially because Fanning is again utterly captivating. Not that Bardem isn’t fantastic, and Hayek and Linney nicely complement their performances.
The film does have a couple of lengths and feels a little frayed, but I have no problems forgiving those flaws for the emotional story and the beautiful performances.
Summarizing: Engaging and emotional.