(MA15+) Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel, Zoe Kravitz
Three teenage misfits embark on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip together – but this is not your average teen road trip comedy. And these are not your average misfits: One has severe Tourette Syndrome and can barely go a sentence without a tick. Another has OCD and an agonising fear of germs, while the third is anorexic and will almost go to any length to avoid eating. With these three endearing and sometimes confronting characters, writer-director Gren Wells has done a fantastic job of bringing such an original story to life. She also highlights the dark reality of mental illness in young people that can seem to be largely unnoticed in contemporary society.
The story revolves around Vincent (Robert Sheehan), whose estranged father Robert (Robert Patrick) sends him to an experimental mental health clinic following the death of his mother. Vincent suffers from severe Tourette Syndrome, and his father hopes that an intensive program can help him control his ticks and outbursts. The impact these ticks have on Vincent and his family is shown in intense detail during the confronting opening scene of the film, at Vincent’s mother’s funeral.
At the live-in clinic, Vincent is made to share a room with fellow patient Alex (Dev Patel), whose obsessive compulsions provide much of the comic relief in the film. Vincent also meets Marie (Zoe Kravitz), an anorexia patient who soon convinces him to steal a car and escape onto the open road. Alex tries to foil their plan but ends up being kidnapped and taken along for the ride. All three patients head off, Vincent hoping to reach the ocean to scatter his Mother’s ashes. Throughout the trip, the trio are faced with many obstacles – money, discovery by their parents and a psychiatrist (Kyra Sedgwick), and the challenges of coming to terms with yourself.
The Road Within is a truly touching and heartwarming story of self-acceptance. Wells doesn’t sugarcoat the immensely important issue of mental illness. She has chosen to ignore the societal taboo yet resists the urge to romanticise the reality that is mental illness. Instead, she lays it all out on the table for us to come to terms with at our own pace. With this comes moments of great discomfort — the most powerful feeling you will come across during the film. Wells urges us to feel uncomfortable, so we register the fact that these characters are not merely fictional characters or statistics – they are representatives of the ever-increasing amount of teenagers and adults that suffer mental illness. In real life.
Wells makes the serious issue of mental illness more relatable to the everyday viewer, through the “classic” teenage road trip storyline. The basis of this theme is still the same here – the road trip to their destination becomes the road trip to the heart of our three heroes. Wells’ use of the age-old teen comedy theme is clever. Throughout the film, she underscores that these misfit teens are still just that – teenagers longing to find their place in the world, regardless of their diagnoses.
The main actors carry their own on-screen, not allowing the intensity of the illness they represent to get in the way of also being relatable. This also applies to Robert Patrick, playing Vincent’s father Robert. Although he doesn’t suffer from Tourette Syndrome or OCD, Robert is still fighting a dark internal battle.
The Road Within highlights that we all must deal with out own demons, whether they are deathly fears of germs or the fear of being a bad parent. But we can also eventually choose, with great strength and character, to not let them define us.
What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?
1. What does the Bible say about acceptance? (Matthew 7:1-29)
2. What does the Bible say about friendship? (1 Peter 4:8-10)