Road to Nowhere is directed by Monte Hellman and has been at such film festivals as Venice, where it won the Special Jury Prize, and South by Southwest. I saw the film on Sunday, April17 at the 2011 Nashville Film Festival. It is a Romance/Thriller/Mystery about making a movie that’s about a book. Director (within the film), Mitch, is making a film about a mysterious death and suicide between a troubled couple. Mitch falls for the woman he has cast as his main star, Velma, and the film itself (within the film) begins to suffer from this relationship because Mitch, immediately in love, spends large amounts of time on her scenes and very little on more important scenes in the film (within the film). The characters in the film being made seem to be cast by the actual people they are inspired by in the actual. This would mean that neither the man nor the women that this film is about are actually dead and also that these people are playing themselves in a film about them. However, this is never referenced so maybe it’s just something weird thing about the movie. With Lynchian-like style, the audience is made to wonder which we are watching, the film or the film being made, as many of the characters appear in both without explanation. Road to Nowhere fails to effectively setup the story as it progresses. The characters seem to be different without any logical reason. As the film within the film deteriorates because of Mitch’s obsession for Velma, Mitch suddenly starts becoming more and more “out of it”. The film doesn’t make any effort to explain this, but one must assume that it’s because that Mitch has also become obsessed with the real-life mystery of which he is making the movie(within the movie) about. This is not really addressed by the film itself so it causes a bit of confusion. Furthermore, Mitch suddenly gets jealous of his actors while they shoot scenes or practice lines with Velma. This jealousy seems to be sparked by his own doing when he started showing favoritism to Velma in the making of the film within the film, which is contradictory.
Road to Nowhere also suffers from the weak acting. It’s got a pretty decent cast, where most of the actors do a fair job (at least in the film itself, not the film being made within this film). However, Tygh Runyan, the director of the film within this film and the Dominique Swain, author of the book that the film within this film is based on, are disruptive in their poor acting. The script is nothing spectacular, either. In fact, the script of both the actual film and the film within the film are both quite mediocre. Many of the scenes are shot by non-moving cameras and focus on Velma taking 2 minutes to put her shoes on. This is technique can be effect, but here it’s not. It’s a classic case of style over substance.
Road to Nowhere takes great pains to be meta. It references many other films. In several scenes Mitch and Velma are laying in bed watching the end of classic films, like The Seventh Seal, to which Mitch calls them all a “masterpiece”. Throughout the film Mitch also awkwardly quotes from classic films, like Casablanca. I couldn’t help but think the film was trying to impress me with its knowledge of film, so much so that it detracts from the film itself.
It’s great to see low-budget, independent and experimental films such as Road to Nowhere at the Nashville Film Festival, but this particular film didn’t work for me.