Don’t look forward
Tour doc meets paean to adolescence in new film On the Road
Life not being about the destination but the journey seems to be a lesson that director Michael Winterbottom has taken to heart. The Trip, his TV series with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in which they play parodic versions of themselves on driving holidays is less about the restaurants they review and more about how they interact. Impressions. Jokes. Impressions. Chat. More impressions. Even though they are professionally funny men, there’s something comfortingly unambitious about their repartee. Something almost, you might think, normal.
Then you watch On the Road, and you remember that, oh yes, normal people’s chat is quite rubbish, isn’t it?
Admittedly, though, the stars of
On the Road have a lot of dead time to fill. The film is a quasi-documentary following British band Wolf Alice as they travel up and down motorways in a tour bus. Of course, Wolf Alice aren’t comedians; nor are they hardened rock’n’rollers — one scene shows the drummer cutting loose with crudités and a pot of hummus — but they do seem like jolly nice people as they soundcheck, pose for selfies with fans, and wait for a radio host to finish his segment on ash dieback disease.
In keeping with his interest in the line where fact and fiction blur, and to add a little pizzazz — by which we mean, obviously, penetrative sex — Winterbottom introduces two made-up characters, a jocular Scottish roadie, Joe (James McArdle), and Estelle (Leah Henry), one of those mysterious people from “management” whose primary purpose on the tour seems to be procuring towels. They chat, they flirt, they pizzazz.
In some ways, this narrative seems an unnecessary distraction, because what On the Road reveals is that being on tour is a strange, hazy form of existence. Hangovers. Small talk. Hangovers. Short bursts of excitement. More hangovers. But perhaps most of all, Winterbottom’s film captures the gloriousness of being young. Of preferring to be in the mosh pit, of finding profundity in certain song lyrics that will stay with you your whole life, and of being able to luxuriate in boredom, before life starts to rattle past and the destination starts to come into view. —
On the Road is out in cinemas on 29 September