Tribeca Review: ‘Roving Woman’ is a road movie with real heart

roving woman
via The Film Sales Company

Roving Woman, a Tribeca selection which hinges on an eclectic performance from actor, co-writer and casting director Lena Gora, is an oddly absorbing experience. Directed by Michael Chmielewski, with some powerful contributions from cinematographer Lukasz Dziedzic, it opens on Gora’s Sara moments after she is kicked out of an apartment.

Even in those opening minutes, as a lingering shot of Los Angeles at night establishes location, Roving Woman possesses a combination of enigmatic bohemian chic and dumpster fire cool. A place where couples can get into late night arguments, break up minutes later, and then reconcile just before dawn. Sara is key in filling out that ambience, as she kicks and pounds at an apartment door, watched only by a single static camera.

That she wakes up with that same lens inches from her face, as a majestic vista of tarmacked incline and downtown domesticity captures Los Angeles at day break, only adds to the magical ambiguity of the film as it unpacks its road trip narrative. A story which over the course of 90 minutes manages to captivate through clever camerawork, dynamic performances, and a killer soundtrack.

As Sara is forced into telling lies following her separation from an unseen boyfriend, she begins an odyssey which includes a little grand theft auto and a whole load of odd encounters, not to mention a few nights alone in stolen cars. All the while, Gora brings the character to life with an effortless naturalism, which some actors might consider pretentious. Whether that includes an abundance of full-frontal nudity, some peeing on sidewalks, or more tragically, rifling through dumpsters for fresh clothes.      

That being said, her journey across America to meet an unknown singer taps into something undeniably romantic. Harking back to an era when the tales of long-distance lovers alluded to simpler times, free from social media apps and global peer pressure; when people could travel from state to state, living day to day, all while retaining their anonymity. A situation which has sadly changed permanently in the age of cell phones and fiber optic internet connections.

roving woman
via The Film Sales Company

Not only does this story feel nostalgic for another time before everything went digital, but cinematographer Lukasz Dziedzic also embraces the sentiment through his camera placement, as he observes from a car seat for much of the movie, rarely choosing to follow Sara outside, even during conversations. It is a bold and brazen approach, which mirrors her free-spirited performance through its single-minded aversion to conventional cinema.

Car doors are closed, dialogue is muffled, and environments feel grounded (if a little romanticized), as Sara carries on driving across America on her journey of discovery. The trip is accompanied by a haunting selection of music from artists which often defy description, who each offer their own lyrical take on her situation. The tunes which give the audience another way into the story, as each snippet adds another shade to a protagonist who is constantly in flux.

In many ways, her search for Gregory Milloy (John Hawkes) is secondary to the journey of self-discovery Sara undergoes. As she meanders up the road making very few connections of worth, it slowly becomes apparent that this learning experience manages to temper her more than any relationship could. There are quiet introspective moments of reflection, which combine with spontaneous expressions of revelation that often well up from nowhere, as Sara absorbs something new each time.

Whether bathing in a roadside creek under the watchful eye of passing traffic, or sharing a beer with an acquaintance beneath an oil lamp on a porch after dark, there is a romanticism which permeates this one-woman journey into the unknown. It enthralls not for being showy or intellectually superior, but rather because Roving Woman never loses sight of what makes the film special.

Gora may wear numerous hats in this movie, whether through the scriptwriting or pitch perfect performance, but despite those pressures, she delivers something truly inspiring. Not through any single element, but because of everything, everywhere all at once. Not only the title of a film millions of miles away from this introverted road movie, but somehow strangely apt, as it captures so much, so often through a single presence on screen. A fact which should make Roving Woman mandatory viewing for anyone looking for a little soul soothing in their life.  

Tribeca Review: 'Roving Woman' is a road movie with real heart

'Roving Woman' never loses sight of what makes this film special, by combining a pitch perfect performance and road trip dynamics, into an exploration of contemporary Americana.

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