One For the Road opens on renationalised New York City bar owner and incorrigible ladies man Boss, who is just about to indulge in the latest of a presumably lengthy string of one night stands with his clientele when he’s rudely interrupted by a phone call from estranged friend Aood. Though the pair haven’t spoken in years, Aood confesses that he now suffers from the same cancer which killed his father and has just months to live. He begs Boss to return home and accompany on him on a cross-country journey of Thailand to revisit and make peace with three of his ex-girlfriends.
Despite being unconvinced of the wisdom or value of such a project, Boss reluctantly agrees and the first half of the film unfolds like a Thai retelling of High Fidelity, with the additional sucker punch of Aood’s terminal illness hanging over events like a death shroud. However, after varying degrees of success in the meetings with each former lover, the movie then suddenly switches tack, focusing on the relationship most central to it: that between Boss and Aood. As we learn more about the backstory of the two erstwhile friends and the reasons for their drifting apart, uncomfortable truths must be faced that might extinguish all affection they once felt for each other.
One For the Road is a sprawling chameleon of a film that’s characterised by its inconsistencies. Never really sure whether it’s a buddy movie, a road trip film, a sentimental musing on the fleeting nature of romantic love or a harrowing journey into the follies of youth, it feels tonally confused after the midway shift of gears. There are inconsistencies in the plot, too; on more than one occasion, a fairly bizarre revelation comes to light with little to no subsequent explanation, while the film also takes the risky decision to make its characters less likeable the more we learn about them. Finally, the film’s overall style – sometimes choppily edited and snazzily shot, at others tinged drenched in maudlin mawkishness – is jarring for its lack of cohesion.
These irregularities in tone, narrative, characterisation and style are compounded by a tendency to land its punches deftly on the nose – the use of Cat Stevens’ Father and Son to soundtrack Aood’s farewell to his father or Elton John’s Tiny Dancer as backing for a last waltz with a dance instructor ex are just two of the more glaring examples of that lack of nuance. Director and writer Baz Poonpiriya should be commended for his willingness to tackle uncomfortable themes such as mortality and the darker aspects of humanity, especially those exhibited in our young and reckless years, but at over two hours in length, One For the Road takes far too long, winding and potholed a route to reach its destination.
Screening as part of Sundance Film Festival 2021