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One For The Road Review: Heartfelt, Emotional Ride

One for the Road triumphs with a touching story of love and regret that takes minor detours along the way but remains emotionally affecting by the end of the journey.

Wong Kar-Wai has not helmed the title of director in over eight years, but the influential filmmaker has just reemerged, only this time serving as a producer, with One for the Road. At first glance, the Thai-language drama may appear as a typical story of terminal cancer, but Baz Poonpiriya’s film spans over a lifetime of connections, both romantic and friendly, that symbolize their importance in our lives. The emotion that comes out of the two-hour epic is the heart of the movie, and while this may come off as monotonous to some, those who are patient enough are in for a spectacle. One for the Road is a tapestry of relationships powered by honest sentimentality and an outstanding direction by Poonpiriya, who touches on Kar-Wai’s poetic style, but forms his own as well. Some of the writing is not concurrent with the film’s charm, as a route taken halfway through the movie tampers with the plot. But One for the Road still succeeds in the service of its character and themes, and by the end of the journey, will have you applauding the strong efforts of this rising filmmaker.

The first destination in One for the Road is in New York City, where ladies’ man Boss (Tor Thanapob) runs an underperforming local bar. One night, after work, Boss receives an unexpected call from a distanced friend, Aood (Ice Natara), his former roommate in New York who has moved halfway across the world, to Thailand. Aood reveals to Boss that he is dying from cancer, and requests his aid in completing a bucket list. This includes visiting ex-girlfriends to return items with some sort of sentimental value to them, while also attempting to make amends with them. Apart from the literal trip across the landscape of Thailand to visit old flames, Boss and Aood take a second trip down memory lane, a reminiscence of past relationships as depicted through a series of flashbacks. Aood’s previous life as Boss’s roommate in New York City is shown, along with the treasured moments Aood spent with his former lovers. Both Boss and Aood rediscover friendship, explore regret, and learn to reconcile not only with previous lovers, but with each other as well.

Tor Thanapob and Violette Wautier at a bar in One for the Road by Baz Poonpiriya
Tor Thanapob and Violette Wautier appear in One for the Road by Baz Poonpiriya, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

One for the Road is simply full of style. With the use of editing, the movie balances the past and present, only focusing on either one whenever necessary. With so many subplots to juggle, the pace feels comfortable, whether it’s jumping to flashbacks of Aood’s relationship with his three ex-girlfriends, or when each of them have their moments of reunion. Much like Wong Kar-Wai himself, Poonpiriya makes careful use of music that brilliantly plays into key moments of the film. In his first reunion, Aood embraces ex-girlfriend Prim to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” a needle drop that puts Almost Famous to shame. “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens plays when Aood spreads his father’s ashes years after his passing (another victim of terminal cancer), finally ending his remorse for not attending his funeral. These selected jams come in the form of cassette tapes; recordings of Aood’s father’s radio show, with each song picked conveniently to fit the scenes they’re played in. It may sound manipulative, but only comes off as sentimental. Besides, who can say no to Supertramp’s songs?

It is only in the second half of One for the Road where an unexpected shift begins to centralize the film’s attention towards Boss’ heartbreak subplot. At first, the material does no harm to the flow of the plot, only deepening his character with rich information, developing Boss into an interesting character (assumingly he was not already). But the extended stay on this backstory collides with Aood’s in a way that delivers a blow to the movie. A twist is revealed, one that begins to overstuff the narrative. While I cannot go until detail to avoid revealing too much (but you’ll notice when you see it), this is where the film’s convenient techniques begin to show signs of wear, exhausting the narrative with an unnecessary addition to the storyline.

By this time, One for the Road feels like it has undergone a different direction, which could leave some viewers feeling cheated once the regular plot resumes. However, this small setback never takes away the film’s built-up emotion, and may in fact add to it, helping pave the road towards a rewarding finale. Shrugging off the flaws, Poonpiriya’s movie can be a tearjerker, and close to perfection with its underlying look at love and friendship.

One For The Road premiered online, at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, on Friday, January 29, 2021.

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