Catherine Deneuve is irresistible. Watching her walk in the sun in the opening scenes of On My Way the French actress is radiant. Seeing her smoking a last, hidden cigarette after learning her lover betrayed her is breathtaking. But for all the joys of watching the celebrated French actress, On My Way, directed and co-written by Emmanuele Bercot, mostly wastes her talents. This is a boring drama better suited to Lifetime Movie of the Week than the Landmark Theaters.
Bercot does give Deneuve a juicy part—that of Bettie, a former Miss Brittany Beauty Queen who is now an aging widow. Fed up with her life she drives off one afternoon in search of herself, but mostly… in search of cigarettes.
Bettie drives through towns craving nicotine. At one point early on, she ends up in a honky-tonk bar where she bonds with some women around her own age before Marco (Paul Hamy), a decades-younger man gets her drunk and takes her to a hotel. Of course, waking up naked with a stranger is cause for a smoke.
The plot of On My Way kicks in when Bettie’s daughter Muriel (Camille) — whom she has not communicated with much over the years—calls her in desperation. Muriel is hoping Bettie can escort her 11 year-old son Charly (Nemo Schiffman, Bercot’s real life son) to her son’s paternal grandfather, Alain’s (Gerard Garouste) house across the country. Bettie agrees, if only to extend her unexpected departure from the failing restaurant she owns. Upon meeting her grandson, it’s loath at first sight. As expected, this odd-couple fight, and make up, say they need each other and then can’t be apart.
This middle stretch of On My Way is a bit drawn out—as when Charly disappears after a fight in a rest stop, or the pair attends a Beauty Pageant reunion Bettie is invited to—but it at least gets the film moving towards something of consequence actually happening. Too much of Bercot’s road movie meanders, and while it is fine to chronicle a woman of a certain age taking stock of her life and even having new adventures, shouldn’t some of them be exciting, or interesting?
There is a little drama when Bettie and Muriel have a confrontation, but mostly their accusations and recriminations seem contrived. There is an interesting symmetry between Bettie and Alain, but it is underexplored. Charly is not especially endearing even when he is meant to be.
But Denevue gives Bettie her all even if the material is subpar. Her impatience as she watches a stranger hand roll a cigarette she desires is a nice moment, and she is sympathetic fighting back her fears or her tears while driving through the countryside. When the film ends up at Alain’s house and develops a nice rhythm for the pace of the character’s life, On My Way engages. Alas, despite Deneuve’s best efforts, it gets there too late.
On My Way opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.