Melodrama is difficult to get right in film. There’s a nuance to the heightened emotions and larger than life experiences that’s easy to brush past. The latest film from Baz Poonpiriya, One for the Road, is glossy and overwrought, wringing the audience for every tear duct imaginable. The main ingredient it is missing is honesty inside the melodrama, though.

It’s relatively easy to eek tears and tragedy out of a film. But, when something is this manipulative, all the style and craft on display becomes awash with a buildup of contrivances that never amount to a genuine emotional spectrum.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The film follows two estranged friends, Boss (Tor Thanapob) and Aood (Ice Natara), as they reconnect on a road trip so that Aood can say goodbye and apologize to his ex-girlfriends before he dies of terminal leukemia. Aood unwittingly drags Boss on the journey with him. As we dive deeper into their friendship, the audience is held at arm’s length as we try to understand the conflict at the heart of the film- why did their friendship end and why is Boss a lothario incapable of a meaningful relationship with a woman.

The story unfolds at a glacial pace, trodding through a series of girlfriends that rightfully should’ve left Aood. While there is emotion that is mined within the story, it is little more than manipulation. The momentum brings us to a pivotal scene where, for lack of a better word, the mystery of the friends is revealed. There is a cleverness to the reveal that reeks of the treacle disaster that was Life Itself from Dan Fogelman.

Undercurrents of misogyny are so entrenched within the two main characters that they are full devoid of sympathy. Neither of them is particularly likable, which is fine if an artist has something to say about their behavior, but Poonpiriya is content to present the two protagonists as pieces is his game of chess.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The opening two thirds of the film seem to be building to something of more substance. Every frame is drenched in lavish style, perhaps trying to disguise the hollow core. While the film might not ring with true or genuine emotion, the film certainly feels personal for the writer and director. Poonpiriya didn’t “sit this one out,” he just miscalculated from a script left. There is a display of craft that shows Poonpiriya might find his footing on his next outing. He has the natural instincts of a genuine filmmaker, while not quite having that same tact as a storyteller.

Wong Kar-wai, the most sumptuous director of melodrama alive, is a producer on the film. Much of the style feels like a direct rip off of him. Occasionally, these homages work on a micro level. The poetry of a filmmaker like Wong Kar-wai is so singular that recreating it for an entire film is a herculean effort even the finest directors would get swallowed by. By the time the ludicrous final moments take place, the frustration of watching this meandering 136 film overtake any goodwill any catharsis the audience might feel.

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