Movie review: Mental health issues hog The Road Within

Playing patients who escape from a psychological health clinic are (from far left) Zoe Kravitz, Robert Sheehan and Dev Patel. -- PHOTO: CATHAYKERIS FILMS
Playing patients who escape from a psychological health clinic are (from far left) Zoe Kravitz, Robert Sheehan and Dev Patel. -- PHOTO: CATHAYKERIS FILMS

Review Drama

THE ROAD WITHIN (M18)

100 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2/5

The story: Vincent (Robert Sheehan) suffers from Tourette syndrome, which causes involuntary physical and verbal tics. After his mother dies, his father sends him to live in a psychological health clinic to help him control his symptoms. Subsequently, he and fellow patients Marie (Zoe Kravitz) and Alex (Dev Patel) escape the clinic and go on a road trip together.

This is a road movie with a twist - the three central characters have mental health issues. Vincent has Tourette syndrome, Alex is obsessive-compulsive about hygiene and Marie is severely anorexic.

If done right, the story - taken from German film Vincent Wants To Sea (2011) - has the potential to be either a very bold comedy or an insightful drama about psychiatric disorders.

But writer-director Gren Wells, in her feature debut, squanders the opportunity. Every sentimental cliche there is in this type of coming-of-age work is rehashed, from the boy who wishes to scatter his mother's ashes in her favourite sea to the eventual reunification between father and estranged son. There would be almost nothing in this too-formulaic work that audiences have not seen before.

Neither is there anything new to be learnt about any of the protagonists' health afflictions, which could have made for much more interesting viewing.

Mostly, there is just a lot of yelling going on. Between Vincent's expletive-filled Tourette outbursts and Alex's manic screams about dirty hands, the film feels tired very quickly.

Given how thin their characterisations are, it is often easier to get annoyed at them rather than to empathise with them, which is probably the opposite effect of what the film-maker was going for.

Rising above the derivative script are the three leads, who make the most of their roles by displaying all the necessary quirks of their characters without turning the movie into a circus freak show.

Irish actor Sheehan (Misfits, 2009-2010) is particularly convincing as Vincent, getting not just the physical and verbal tics down pat, but also carrying all the shame that comes with his disorder.

Kravitz, a rising star and daughter of singer Lenny Kravitz, is also subtle in her portrayal of Marie. This, on top of looking convincingly like an anorexic. She reportedly lost 9kg to play her part here, seeming so bony that it almost hurts to watch her struggle to eat a single carrot stick.

At one point, a baffled Vincent asks her: "Why can't you eat? All you have to do is put it in your mouth."

It is a question that many people constantly ask of those with eating disorders and this would have been the perfect avenue for the director to explore the issue and bring it some depth.

Unfortunately, all the hard questions are simply brushed aside and viewers are left wishing there is more to the movie.

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter@STyipwaiyee

Young Rising stars