Javier Bardem is Leo, a man who lives in a rundown apartment in Brooklyn. When we meet him, he’s lying in bed, unable to answer calls from his concerned daughter. Molly arrives to find him comatose but alive. Relieved, she spends the day navigating her father’s schedule of doctor’s visits and clothes shopping, made all the more difficult by his worsening condition and the insensitive reaction of almost everyone they come in contact with, including ex-wife Rita (Laura Linney). “He just pretends to not remember things,” she says, “to make me feel guilty.”
Breaking up the day-to-day are flashbacks—or are they hallucinations?—from Leo’s past life. “Where have you been all day dad,” Molly asks as his mind reels backwards through time to a romance with Dolores (Salma Hayek) in rural Mexico and sojourn in Greece where he meets a beautiful young woman who reminds him of his daughter.
As a portrait of a fragmented mind, apparently based loosely on Potter’s experience with her younger, musician brother Nic, “The Roads Not Taken” succeeds because of the performances. The story telling is ragged, jarring as it jumps through time without providing enough connective tissue to hold together.
Fanning, as a person who realizes she must grieve for her father before he is gone, drips compassion. It’s heartfelt work that gives the movie a pulse. “No matter how far away you go,” she says. “No matter what they says, “you are always you.” Bardem, essentially playing three characters, is effective, allowing just enough of Leo’s personality to shine through to make us understand who he once was.
“The Roads Not Taken” is not an easy movie to watch. It brims with empathy for Leo but allows the story’s grief and regret overpower its message of steadfast love.