Most filmmakers are so desperate for the audience to like their characters that they create perfect specimens who behave impeccably and who are guaranteed to do the right thing… but not this time.
‘On My Way’ hosts a group of French, fatally flawed people who wouldn’t know what the right thing was if it fell on their tete. There’s a selfish former Beauty Queen, a spiteful mother, a bitter daughter, a disrespectful grandson and a hot granddad. Could there be better fodder for a family drama?
Bettie (Catherine Deneuve) has been a widow for many years and is struggling to take care of her elderly mother and prevent her restaurant from going bankrupt. After a particularly difficult night at work, she returns home to be informed by her mother that her long-time lover has jilted her for a woman decades her junior. Still reeling from the shock, Bettie is hounded by creditors and, with nowhere to turn, she takes off in her car and fails to return.
The story really begins when Bettie meets her grandson for the first time and they embark on an enforced road trip, but this doesn’t happen until the film is 30 minutes in. For some reason, the writers decided that a prelude to the big adventure was needed and threw in a few scenes in which the aging grandmother is seduced by a 30 year-old man. Later in the film, we are informed by Bettie’s daughter that Bettie is a serial mistress, but her behavior with the 30 year-old is passive and self-conscious. This not only dilutes our heroine’s character but also makes it difficult to know what she really wants.
What works best in this story are the moments when the audience know what’s going on in Bettie’s mind. One such instance is when she watches her daughter shower her son with affection and it’s clear from Bettie’s demeanor that she was never able to do that to her own child. But it’s also clear that she’s painfully aware of what she missed and it’s this sadness that makes her a figure to sympathize with and not to judge.
There are a few events in Bettie’s journey that have no good reason to be there but, once you’ve climbed aboard, it doesn’t really matter where you’re taken. With our heroine running the show, you know things aren’t going to turn out well.
Despite its downward spiral, the film leaves its audience with an upbeat message, but it’s likely not one Bettie would embrace. She makes it clear right from the start that, as far as she’s concerned, nostalgia stinks and aging really, really sucks. French, American, whatever you are, you’re all headed for le trash. And at 70 years of age, Miss Deneuve should know.
On My Way – French, English sub-titles
New York March 14th, 2014
Los Angeles 21st, 2014