The week's movies: The Roads Not Taken, The Broken Hearts Gallery, Savage

The week's movies: The Roads Not Taken, The Broken Hearts Gallery, Savage

Javier Bardem and Elle Fanning in The Roads Not Taken

The Roads Not Taken (15A) ****  

Although it alludes to the Robert Frost poem in which a traveller is obliged to choose only one road, The Roads Not Taken allows Leo (Javier Bardem) to explore a number of ways in which his life might have been different. 

Sally Potter’s film opens in a cramped New York apartment with Leo unable to leave his bed: he is depressed, or catatonic, or has perhaps suffered a stroke. 

While his daughter Molly (Elle Fanning) chivvies him into attending a number of medical appointments, Leo’s mind constantly drifts away from the present into might-have-beens, among them the ‘co-dependent disaster’ of his marriage to his first wife, Dolores (Salma Hayek), and the life-defining decision he took when Molly was born to his second wife, Rita (Laura Linney). 

Despite the Frost reference, it’s James Joyce who casts a shadow over this film: the story takes place over the course of a single day, as Leo, a former writer, ranges far and wide in his fragmented memory, and it is in Greece, appropriately enough, that a younger Leo appears to be writing a contemporary version of Homer’s Odyssey. 

Javier Bardem exudes a magnetic quality despite the passive nature of Leo’s character: this is a slowly paced film that thrives on tiny, incremental details as the various tragedies of Leo’s life gradually emerge, and with Leo largely immobilised, much of his pain and suffering is transmitted through Bardem’s expressive eyes. 

Laura Linney contributes a vivid cameo as the sardonic Rita, Salma Hayek is a study in simmering frustration, and Elle Fanning charts a sure path through the emotional highs and lows of navigating her father through his turbulent day. 

Most impressive of all is the certainty of Sally Potter’s guiding hand as she assembles the disparate elements of Leo’s experiences and dives deep into his kaleidoscopic life of the mind. (cinema release)

The Broken Hearts Gallery (12A) ***

Geraldine Viswanthan and Dacre Montgomery in The Broken Hearts Gallery
Geraldine Viswanthan and Dacre Montgomery in The Broken Hearts Gallery

The Broken Hearts Gallery stars Geraldine Viswanthan as Lucy Gulliver, an inveterate collector of keepsakes from failed relationships. 

Dumped by her latest boyfriend, Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar), Lucy hits on the idea of opening an art gallery for the broken-hearted, where the love-lorn can donate the physical reminders of their emotional pain. 

Enter Nick (Dacre Montgomery), who is refurbishing an old New York hotel, and who reluctantly agrees to host what he describes as ‘a lost-and-found for hoarders and stalkers’. 

A tentative romance begins to blossom, although by now the more attentive viewer will have noticed that Nick’s venture is called the Hotel Chloe, and might well be wondering who the mysterious Chloe might be … 

Written and directed by Natalie Krinsky, The Broken Hearts Gallery is an apparently frothy rom-com that asks interesting questions about the nature of attraction, the mechanisms we devise for coping with grief, and who gets to decide what art really is.

A bubbly optimist despite her serial disappointments in love, Lucy is an endearing character given a delightfully wide-eyed reading by Geraldine Viswanthan; unfortunately, there is very little chemistry between the two leads, with Lucy striking more convincing sparks with Nick’s best friend Marcos (Arturo Castro) than with Nick himself. 

There are good performances in the supporting roles, however, and especially from Molly Gordon as Lucy’s man-eating friend Amanda, although the most enjoyable aspect of the movie is the way it plays with the conventions of the rom-com, with Lucy frequently pausing to point out how ridiculous the characters’ behaviour is. 

The latter stages are burdened with some extraneous scenes, and that lack of chemistry might be a deal-breaker for some, but The Broken Hearts Gallery is smart, assured and fun. (cinema release)

Savage (18s) ****

Savage: a tale of fraternal rebellion
Savage: a tale of fraternal rebellion

Set in New Zealand, Savage (18s) stars Jake Ryan as Damage, aka Danny, the leader of the biker gang the Savages. 

Facing down a rebellion from gang members who believe he’s going soft, Danny is urged by his lifelong friend Moses (John Tui) to kill or be killed. 

It’s a standard opening to what proves to be an unusual story: Sam Kelly’s film takes place across a span of 30 years, allowing us to discover why an ostensibly quiet, normal boy might be transformed in a self-described ‘animal’ dedicated to wreaking havoc on society. 

It’s brutal in places: Damage’s weapon of choice is a hammer, and the young Danny’s rise through the ranks is charted via a series of brilliantly executed fight sequences. 

But even as his appetite for violence appals us, we learn about the dehumanising experiences that transformed Danny from a boy into a beast: we may not like or admire him, but it’s impossible not to empathise, in large part because Jake Ryan is as persuasive at portraying vulnerability as he is when pounding his latest victim into pulp. (cinema release)

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