The mythos of the American road trip has been both glorified as an essential and affirming part of the American experience but also diluted as a clichéd escape for those lost and longing for something beyond this modern society.
West of Her longs to ride alongside the great road movies of the last century, but gets a little lost off the main highway by taking a turn down platitude place.
West of Her follows Dan (Ryan Caraway), as his mid-life crisis leads him to sign up for a mysterious guerilla art project that sends him across the country installing cryptic tiles on curbs. Accompanying him is the even more mysterious Jane (Kelsey Siepser), who carefully conceals her reasons for joining the project. As they traverse the west, Dan and Jane find themselves more drawn to each other as they ponder what it all means.
…it’s hard not to wish the more mysterious direction was developed further.
The film is loosely based on the real-life Toynbee Tiles – a series of similarly tiled messaged embedded on pavement all across the country. The artist (or artists) and installers of these tiles still remain a mystery. While first-time writer/director Ethan Warren’s musings of how a project could have been possible is an interesting concept, this impetus doesn’t seem to pay off. The tile project of West of Her is just as mysterious as it was when the film began. This is by design – the project serves more as a metaphor for the character’s journey’s – but it’s hard not to wish the more mysterious direction was developed further.
Caraway and Siepser’s chemistry is what holds the movie together. As the film meanders between attempts at Linklater-esque conversations and Malickian montages of some of the great American landscapes, it is their charm that keeps you along for the journey. The characters’ backstory and vague philosophizing don’t amount to much else beyond a good ol’ “it’s all gonna be ok,” but it is hard to not be charmed. It is a slight film, not quite revelatory, but West of Her is a beautiful ride and an assured debut.
‘West of Her’ is not rated. 90 minutes. Now available on various VOD platforms.