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Sundance 2021 Review: 'One for the Road' wants you to live

'One for the Road' is a universally human tale that wants you to live. Like—really live.

Thanapob Leeratanakajorn as Boss in 'One for the Road.'
(Image: © Courtesy of the Sundance Institute.)

Our Verdict

'One for the Road' is a universally human tale that wants you to live. Like—really live.

For

  • 🚗Incredible performances across the board.
  • 🚗Beautifully shot.
  • 🚗Shares a universally touching story of the good, the bad, and the ugly of life and humanity.

Against

  • 🚗A little too long.

One for the Road is part of our Sundance Film Festival 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

Managing to pull off both style and substance sounds like an easy ask in a visual artform—but we often see films that struggle with balance between one and the other. One for the Road isn’t one such film. From the start, we can see that this is going to be visually delightful, and that quality is maintained until the film’s closing shot. As for the substance? Yeah—there is a lot of meat on these bones.

The film follows Aood (Ice Natara) and Boss (Thanapob Leeratanakajorn) on a complicated road trip across Thailand. Boss—the owner of a swanky bar in New York City—gets a phone call from his long-time friend in the middle of a hookup asking him for a favor, but before he gives details he needs Boss to return home. While that seems like a strange thing to agree to right out of the gate, there there’s an extenuating circumstance here: Aood reveals that he has Leukemia, and he has no interest in further chemotherapy. So, Boss gets on a plane.

Once he arrives back home, he gets a little more than he bargained for. Not only does Aood want him to schlep him across the country to visit his ex-girlfriends to say goodbye (or apologize) one last time, Boss’ best friend is also harboring a bit of a secret that could tear the two apart. All that drama is best saved for the film, but rest assured—One for the Road utilizes it all in the best possible way. 

At first glance, One for the Road appears to be a story about death and farewells, and everything that comes with them. But that’s not really it at all. One for the Road wants you to live. It could end up being a tough watch for some while we all deal with the claustrophobia of reaching nearly a year spent largely confined to our own homes, but I think that adds to the impact here. As these boys road trip across Thailand, we learn aspects of their lives that highlight all the pains and joys of truly living. The laughter, tears, agony, exhaustion, and terror of it all is beautifully expressed while also shining a light on the danger of being afraid of the pains of real connections in favor of quick bursts of serotonin.

Every single performance in this picture is stunning. Ice Natara and Thanapob Leeratanakajorn as Aood and Boss respectively are obvious highlights as the film’s two leads, but Ploi Horwang and Violette Wautier deserve honorable mentions as April and Prim. No film works if your actors aren’t behind their characters, but there’s a special kind of importance in a story like this one. Their performances make the narrative shifts from lighthearted to devastating believable ones in ways that lesser actors simply wouldn’t be able to achieve.

Foreign films might make some viewers balk—yes, yes, I know, subtitles are scary—but One for the Road is undoubtedly for a universal audience. It’s deeply human in all of the word’s definitions, and it will make you feel all of that humanity while it’s telling you its tale. It’s beautiful, bright, quiet, loud, joyous, devastating… everything. But, first and foremost, it’s a reminder not to wait until your last days to truly choose life.