A film notable for its talented cast and the first serious acting role for pop star Justin Timberlake, The Open Road is an endearing tale of father and son confronting their broken relationship. But what it has in talent, it lacks in coherence, which ultimately fails to make the movie stand out amid the rest of the road movie genre.
“Oh, Carlton,” a maternal but hopeful Kate Mara says to the wind as her ex-boyfriend talks through his estranged father’s behaviour while at the same time failing to see how it mirrors his own failed relationship with Mara’s character.
It is one of several endearing moments in this road movie that boasts an impressive cast of actors and possesses touches of brilliance but which ultimately falls down by trying to push the reconciliation of its main characters too fast.
Justin Timberlake stars in his first serious acting role in The Open Road, appearing alongside Jeff Bridges as a father and son rebuilding their relationship despite themselves.
Bridges’ character, Kyle Garrett, is a revered retired baseball pro living off his glory days who agrees to travel with his son Carlton to his estranged wife’s hospital bed before she undergoes surgery. But Kyle is much happier sticking with the unconditional praise he receives from fans than the messy and complex relationships he has left behind.
The film itself draws on the real-world relationship between director, Michael Meredith, and his retired quarterback legend father Don Meredith. And the movie is all the better, and worse, because of it.
In a second touching and subtle scene in a roadside diner, a small comment by Kyle makes it clear he has been quietly following his son’s progress, and Carlton swells invisibly on the screen; while stranded at a gas station, a small piece of fatherly advice is dismissed and yet treasured at the same time, in the way that only a son can feel when receiving passed-down wisdom.
But while Meredith beautifully captures the internal heart-lifts, when it comes to Carlton’s anger and mistrust of his father’s evasive behaviour, the film slips from 3D into 2 and is played out through internal monologues or clumsy explanations, rather than through the same nuanced observations. It’s a shame because in Bridges, the film had found the perfect actor for blending charisma and cowardice.
Bridges is on top of his game and is compelling viewing. Likewise Mara, who slips effortlessly between being distant and despairing, and soft and seductive. The falldown is with Timberlake, who despite showing moments of real depth, often can’t prevent himself from grinning, as if he’s enjoying proper acting so much that he just can’t help but be excited. The disparity between the two jars the viewer awake and means that the film never manages to hook you in.
The set pieces are great – well filmed, acted and directed – but there is not sufficient emotional padding in between leaving you a little uncertain as to why they have all started behaving so differently. You can feel the film’s impatience: it wants reconciliation between both the son and father, and it wants Lucy and Charlton to realise the obvious, and it doesn’t have time to be sat in the back of a red SUV for hours on end, as its characters are.
In the end, it is this impatience that gets the better of the film. The best road movies have you rolling along with the car’s occupants, dealing with the long stretches of nothing, observing the little details and flashing past the lives of others. The Open Road forgets that: even after the mother (played by Mary Steenburgen) speaks to Charlton on the phone to urge him, and, seemingly the film itself, to remember that the journey is the important thing.
The Open Road is a touching tale, made remarkable by its cast, but it opts to take the freeway rather than the scenic route and it is less enjoyable because of it.
The Open Road website: http://www.theopenroadmovie.com/