I think a reasonable person could like BACK ROADS, that kind of person being one who enjoys Hallmark or Lifetime movies. But with lackluster acting, dull scenery, and an occasionally enjoyable story, BACK ROADS will not please most viewers.
BACK ROADS features Juliette Lewis (Ma), Alex Pettyfer (The I-Land), Jennifer Morrison (The Report), Nicola Peltz (Our House), Chiara Aurelia (The Brave), and Hara Finley (Man with a Plan).
BACK ROADS is Alex Pettyfer’s directorial debut, and he does not take risks with his camera work. The camera is mainly stationary, capturing the drama in medium two-shots and shot/reverse shot style. The flat scenery, such as the pale glow of a grocery store or the grayness of a therapist’s office, makes for a visually boring experience.
The story follows 18-year-old Harley Altmyer (a dreadfully miscast 29-year-old Alex Pettyfer), a teen who has to care for his three younger siblings. While his mother Bonnie is incarcerated for murdering her husband, Harley tries to care for his sisters Amber, Jody, and Misty. Harley has some serious anger issues, which are exacerbated by Amber’s promiscuity and angst. Youngsters Jody and Misty are caught in the middle. After he meets an older married woman, Callie, at his grocery store job, Harley begins a secret affair with her. As the story goes on, family secrets are revealed and Harley begins to struggle with his role as a caregiver.
The sex scenes are kind of hot if you think clothed missionary on a dining room table is hot. Callie and Harley don’t have much chemistry, and Harley is painted as immature, wanting only sex from Callie instead of the love and friendship she seems to crave. The tone shifts awkwardly from dramatic to sexy to heart-wrenching and back. Characters telegraph their movements; the acting, in general, is unsubtle and at times grating.
The movie is based off a novel of the same name; author Tawni O’Dell also wrote the BACK ROADS screenplay. The writing seems like it would be more suited for the stage.
The therapy scenes, in particular, are hilariously over the top—Harley’s therapist asks triggering and aggressive questions, and Harley regularly walks out of his sessions. Pettyfer mumbles his lines in a monotone.
There is a bit of good acting scattered in—Juliette Lewis gives an inspired performance as Bonnie Altmyer, Harley’s incarcerated mother. (Harley insists Bonnie “wants to be in jail,” painting him as a cruel son.) Jennifer Morrison as Callie tries hard with the lines she’s given, but it’s hard to see why she’s attracted to horny, grumbly Harley.
One scene I quite enjoyed is a long shot in which Harley finds Amber having sex on the living room sofa. In a dramatic scene, Harley drags the sofa outside, while Amber howls and younger sisters Jody and Misty look on. He lights the sofa on fire while Amber screams at him and her date drives away. This scene is effective, but it feels like a dated, been-there-done-that premise. Harley is really getting mad at his sister for fucking? How hypocritical. It again shines a light on how dumb and cruel Harley is.
Overall, BACK ROADS is a corny drama that may appeal to some. But it is generally too grating and boring to be enjoyable. BACK ROADS is available on Amazon Prime Video.