Despite the noble ambitions of writer-director Sally Potter (“Orlando, “The Party”), “The Roads Not Taken” proves a morose and baffling drama; a painful, snail’s-paced 85 minutes with little payoff.
The film was inspired by Potter’s time caring for her late brother, Nic, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2010. Here we find Nic proxy Leo (Javier Bardem), a writer compromised by some unnamed, but deeply disabling neurological condition, living in a crummy Brooklyn apartment next to the train tracks. He’s confused, incoherent, childlike and resistant.
Leo’s devoted daughter, Molly (Elle Fanning), a journalist (we’re told), arrives one morning to take him to the dentist and the optometrist. But Leo simply can’t handle these simple tasks and the day turns into an awkward series of disasters. Meanwhile, he imagines what his life might have been like had he stayed in his native Mexico with his first love (Salma Hayek) or remained on the Greek island he escaped to after marrying Molly’s mother (Laura Linney).
These episodes read as flashbacks but are intended as peeks into “parallel worlds.” It’s an ill-conceived device that evokes a host of unanswered questions.
The expressive Bardem does his best with his muddled role, Fanning is all in and Hayek works hard, but Linney is sadly underused.
Rated: R, for language
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: Starts March 13, The Landmark, West Los Angeles