ON THE ROAD

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - OUT 29 Septem­ber CERT 18 / 112 MINS HAMISH MACBAIN

Di­rec­tor Michael Win­ter­bot­tom cast Leah Har­vey, James Mcar­dle, Paul Pop­plewell, Shirley Hen­der­son, Wolf Alice

plot As in­die rock band Wolf Alice tour the UK over the course of a year, they’re joined by a young woman (Har­vey) who works for their man­age­ment. Be­com­ing part of their daily life, she makes a big im­pact on one of the crew (Mcar­dle).

THERE IS A great line from Char­lie Watts — al­ways the most quotable mem­ber of The Rolling Stones — in which he ac­cu­rately sums up the re­al­ity of a quar­ter of a cen­tury’s worth of life in a tour­ing rock band. “Five years work­ing,” he sniffs, “and 20 years hang­ing around.” Un­der­stand­ably, most on-tour-with films tend to fo­cus more on the for­mer half of this quip (plus, of course, the af­ter-par­ties), with the long, ar­du­ous tour-bus drives up and down the M1 and the rest­less naps grabbed in air­port de­par­ture lounges only rep­re­sented in mon­tages.

For his film about ris­ing Lon­don in­die rock­ers Wolf Alice, Michael Win­ter­bot­tom has cho­sen to more ac­cu­rately re­flect the ex­cite­ment/mun­dan­ity bal­ance of a year on the road. So while we get plenty of live per­for­mance clips in not-so-glam­ourous lo­ca­tions — “Hello, Folke­stone!” — the fo­cus here is on sit­ting around at sound­checks and dress­ing rooms, ba­nal tour-bus chat­ter, and even-more-ba­nal re­gional ra­dio in­ter­views (en­ter­tain­ingly, and prob­a­bly know­ingly, one of these is at Ra­dio Nor­folk). Us­ing this as a back­drop, real ac­tors are deftly, sub­tly wo­ven into pro­ceed­ings, and we start to see a re­la­tion­ship blos­som be­tween a charm­ing-but-dim Glaswe­gian roadie named Joe (Mcar­dle) and Estelle (Har­vey): a mem­ber of the band’s man­age­ment team who has joined the tour to take live pho­tos for their web­site.

Wolf Alice, you sus­pect, have been cho­sen for this film pre­cisely be­cause, in terms of tour­ing an­tics, they are un­re­mark­able. Their songs are de­cent and singer/gui­tarist El­lie Roswell is gen­uinely charis­matic, but in terms of bad be­hav­iour, Möt­ley Crüe they are not. Co­caine and groupies are nowhere to be seen, while the wildest they get is jump­ing around a bit at a club they have been booked to DJ at af­ter one of the shows. Even when their bas­sist in­jures his el­bow right be­fore a Lon­don show, they are seen sim­ply, calmly run­ning a stand-in through his parts in the few hours be­fore stage time. There are zero in­ter-band ar­gu­ments, and none of them say any­thing par­tic­u­larly note­wor­thy, nor even moan much about be­ing ex­hausted.

Few teenage tear­aways will come away from this film with the re­solve to pick up a gui­tar and carve out a life like this for them­selves. But that’s far from the point. The ac­tion here (or rather lack of it) con­cocts the per­fect, dream-like at­mos­phere in which Win­ter­bot­tom can tell a story of two peo­ple fall­ing in love (his orig­i­nal ti­tle was ‘Love Song’). The way that Joe and Estelle’s con­ver­sa­tions be­gin awk­wardly but then evolve into a gen­uine, touch­ing rap­port feels au­then­tic, while the key scenes are ac­tu­ally the ones in which they man­age to grab a few moments alone back­stage or in the less-thansalu­bri­ous sur­round­ings of a mid-price ho­tel room. Half­way through, the cam­era lingers long on Estelle’s mo­tion­less face in the crowd as the band blast through their songs, her thoughts tak­ing cen­tre stage. By the end, you feel in­cred­i­bly in­vested in her re­la­tion­ship and anx­ious to know how it will pan out. The quiet, low-key clos­ing scenes that fol­low may be far from how you’d ex­pect an on-tour rock doc­u­men­tary to cli­max. But in their own unique way, they pack as emo­tional a punch as any great cur­tain-call bal­lad would. Verdict A highly orig­i­nal mood piece, Michael Win­ter­bot­tom’s lat­est might deglam­or­ise the fan­tasy of go­ing out on the road with a rock ’n’ roll band, but while do­ing so it also pro­vides one of the year’s most touch­ing ro­mances.

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