Who hasn’t, at some point in his or her life, examined the complicated mess they’re swimming in and thought, “Fuck it, I’m outta here”? That’s where we find Bettie (Deneuve), at the beginning of On My Way. She is a 70-year-old widow who lives with her henpecking mother upstairs from the financially faltering restaurant she runs. When she gets the news that her affair with a married man has ended due to him running off with a 25-year-old, she snaps, hops into her gold Mercedes for a pack of cigarettes, and ends up flooring it on a cross-country odyssey.
Deneuve is an actress with history, a French national treasure whose presence onscreen can’t help but recall for the viewer her performances in some of the most seminal films of the last 50 years. This is what director Emmanuelle Bercot takes on in On My Way, and Deneuve is game, playing an everyday character who is her own worst enemy. Bettie is an ex-beauty pageant winner (she won Miss Brittany at the age of 19), and she never fully recovered from that early apex of fame and identity. Lifted from the fog she has surrounded herself with, she is now navigating the world as if for the first time, relying on the kindness of strangers to, say, read a map or roll a cigarette. Midway through her existential crisis on wheels, Bettie receives a call from her estranged daughter, Muriel (played by French singer-songwriter Camille), who needs her to take her 11-year-old son Charly (Schiffman) to his grandfather’s while she pursues a job opportunity. The film then turns into a buddy road movie, with the bratty Charly and the nervously liberated Bettie going through the rote development of fighting all the time to becoming livelong besties. By the time they all end up at a picturesque, countryside home (where, inexplicably, all the major characters converge) a feast is in place, fences are inevitably mended, and life doesn’t look so bleak for Bettie after all.
It’s all so predictable, an obvious love letter from Bercot to Deneuve (she wrote the role specifically for her), which is why it’s a shame it doesn’t work despite her fearless performance. The camera clings to Deneuve like a frightened child, knowing that there’s not much going on that we haven’t seen a million times before. Unfortunately, Deneuve’s performance is not enough to elevate On My Way from the dredges of narrative tedium. Bettie may have gotten her groove back, but, in the end, the price the audience pays isn’t worth it.