On the Road
Acclaimed English director Michael Winterbottom followed indie rock band Wolf Alice during their 2016 tour through the UK and Ireland. His mostly unscripted rock docudrama On the Road feels authentic although the fictionalised love story of Estelle (Lea Harvey) from band management and crew member Joe (James McArdle) is interweaved into the film. Winterbottom is quite skilled at shooting on location and does not drop the ball with his latest cinematic endeavour.
The first half of the film slowly shows the ins and outs of touring on the road. Wolf Alice began in 2010 as an acoustic pair with Ellie Roswell (lyrics/guitar) and Joff Oddie (guitar) and in 2012 Joel Amey (drums) and Theo Ellis (bass) joined. The contact with their fans is brilliantly captured: first Estelle interviewing excited 14-year-old fans before a show, then as they are manning some DJ sets and later as Roswell jumps from the stage to high-five those closest to her.
Although the sound quality of the concert sequences are not that polished but rather gritty, this intentional choice works for this quasi-documentary. It captures the point of view of their enthusiastic young fans. Their acoustic radio performances and interviews give a slight glimpse into the band, nevertheless they – especially singer Roswell – remain a bit elusive even once the credits roll. At times her presence on stage evokes Courtney Love from the 90s. The band’s style seems to float between grunge, punk, folk and even pop.
The pacing at two hours long might feel a bit slow and perhaps it could have been cut down by 10 minutes, but for those diehard Wolf Alice fans it will likely leave them wanting more. A little more Estelle and Joe dialogue might have also tightened up the pacing. It would have been lovely to see more screen time between Joe and his mother (the underrated Scottish actress Shirley Henderson) because their bar scene seems a bit too brief. Maybe that was the point.
Winterbottom is one of the most diverse directors working today; he seamlessly shifts through a variety of film formats, budgets, genres and styles. In On the Road he gives the audience an all-access pass to Wolf Alice’s month-long tour. While there might not be any real structured plot or climax, as it simply feels like behind-the-scenes footage, the love story between Estelle and Joe is the cohesive factor that ties it all together.
On the Road is released nationwide on the 6th October 2017.
Watch the trailer for On the Road here: