'The Odd Way Home': Film Review
Rumer Willis plays a battered woman forced to look after an autistic young man in Rajeev Nirmalakhandan’s low-budget dramedy.
Mismatched misfits take an aimless road trip in Rajeev Nirmalakhandan’s sophomore feature, learning life lessons about flexibility, tolerance and self-acceptance along the way. Riddled with cliches and hamstrung by a scattered script and often forced performances, the film faces a swift transition to home entertainment formats following theatrical release.
Twenty-ish Maya (Rumer Willis) flees an abusive boyfriend in Los Angeles after he nearly beats her unconscious, stealing his truck and taking off with only a few trashy outfits, a handgun and the stash of prescription pills that she pops with regularity. After the truck breaks down once she reaches New Mexico, Maya seeks assistance at an isolated roadside home, where she helps herself to cash and more pills after discovering the elderly resident dead on her couch.
Stealing the woman’s camper-truck proves more complicated, however, when she’s surprised by a stowaway -- the woman’s adult grandson, high-functioning autistic Duncan (Chris Marquette), who’s set up his bedroom in the back of the camper. Once Duncan overcomes his panic and realizes that his grandmother has passed away, he joins Maya as she attempts to reunite him with his father at a location that Duncan hesitates to disclose. The film’s second third finds the pair driving aimlessly on backcountry roads and attempting to adjust to one another’s peculiarities, which include Maya’s addiction-addled impulsiveness and Duncan’s multitude of compulsive behaviors and inability to decipher human emotions.
After Maya nearly gets raped at a roadside bar, she drags Duncan along as she seeks refuge with her sympathetic former boyfriend Dave (Brendan Sexton III), who’s now married and living in the remote town she left behind when she abandoned him to move to L.A. He inexplicably welcomes her, as well as Duncan, tending to Maya as she goes through a weeklong withdrawal from her prescription drug addiction. Then it’s on to confront her family and the abusive background that shaped her ongoing psychological trauma, before finally tracking down Duncan’s aloof and equally neglectful father, perhaps to avail themselves of some portion of his apparently sizable fortune. As it turns out, the handgun never figures decisively in the plot at all.
Nirmalakhandan attempts to pull off this whirlwind display of staggeringly dysfunctional family dynamics with a lightness of tone that’s often at odds with events in the film. Along with co-writer Jason Ronstadt, he appears tone-deaf to the possibilities of either witheringly caustic black humor or full-on melodrama, instead opting for half-hearted comedy and forced whimsy.
The actors manage as best they can with the material, but it’s an uphill struggle, particularly for Willis, who spends the first half of the film with her face made up to look like a battered streetwalker. With a character that’s almost completely lacking backstory initially, narrative developments don’t give her much to fill in the gaps, leaving the plot to wander aimlessly for the better part of an hour. Marquette’s autistic Duncan, an expert mapmaker even if he’s a bundle of social anxiety, comes across almost realistically, but with no particular motivation, the result is constant repetition of the same behavioral tics, which soon become routine to Maya as well.
Nirmalakhandan and cinematographer Matt Wilson show off some accomplished if unnecessarily flashy camera techniques, but they’re all in service to a script that offers scant opportunity to engage, and they end up shortchanging other aspects of the production, which appears overly eager to benefit from New Mexico’s liberal tax credit incentive program.
Production companies: Slant Productions, Sandia Media
Cast: Chris Marquette, Rumer Willis, Brendan Sexton III, Veronica Cartwright, Bruce Altman
Director: Rajeev Nirmalakhandan
Screenwriters: Rajeev Nirmalakhandan, Jason Ronstadt
Producers: Peter Touche, Patrick Nelson
Executive producers: Victor Kearney, Shiney Nattakom, Thomas Nattakom
Director of photography: Matt Wilson
Production designer: Izar Azurmendi
Costume designer: Mel Hocking
Editor: Ben La Marca
Music: Daniel James Chan
No rating, 87 minutes