Directed and narrated by Jenni Olson, The Royal Road is a meandering series of still shots that lacks depth, nuance or creativity. The images are disconnected from any context, the narration rarely matches to the images, and the whole piece is without focus. Brief moments might be interesting in and of themselves, but they don’t add up to anything meaningful.
The narration guides us through the film and it fails to build to anything. She goes from talking about her personal journey of discovering her sexuality to the history of Spanish colonization to Hitchcock’s Vertigo. While a few of these moments are interesting and insightful, as a whole, most of the moments fall flat and aren’t compelling to watch.
The choice to make every shot still also makes the film a chore to watch. While this aesthetic can certainly be used effectively in certain films, here it feels lazy, simply set a camera, get a half-decent composition, and let it record for a few minutes. And the images fail to enhance the piece. This could have been a podcast and little would be lost.
It’s a shame because I want to admire the history of the piece, I want to admire the vulnerability of its ethnographic approach, I want to enjoy this film, but there’s nothing to connect to. By the end I was left with the dreaded question: “So what?” That’s about the worst thing I could say about the film. And I think Jenni knows the inadequacy of this film because at the end she laments that she wish she had something profound to say. So do I.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing