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Something Borrowed, Something New

Lukasz Dziedzic

Roving Woman (2022)

“Roving Woman” is dedicated to Connie Converse, a singer-songwriter who spent nearly a decade trying to make a name for herself and her music in 1950s Greenwich Village, except she was a woman ahead of her time so nobody cared. She gave up in the early 1960s, around the time Bob Dylan strode into the limelight, and in 1974 packed up her car and disappeared. She’s never been seen again, probably a suicide, but also because (according to her Wikipedia page) her family decided to “respect her decision” to vanish and never searched for her. It’s exceedingly unlikely she is still alive, but her music survived due to the protection of a friend and was discovered by the wider world about 20 years ago. The movie is named after one of her songs, about a woman’s use of cards and drink to be led astray. But this beautifully sad little film, shown at the Tribeca Festival, is instead about how easy it is for a life, in the words of Britpop favorite Pulp, “to slide out of view.”

Sara (Lena Gora, who co-wrote the script with director Michal Chmielewski and also did the casting) lives in Los Angeles with a boyfriend named Ted. At least she did. As the movie starts she is shoved out the door, screaming and crying, and no matter her begging and pleading, she is not let back in. She rings the doorbell, hammers on the windows, pisses on the step. Nothing. She is wearing a long green party dress and white heels, with a clip in her hair. That’s all she has. That’s it. No wallet, no phone, no keys, no driver’s license, and no explanation for the cruelty. The boyfriend doesn’t even throw any of her stuff out of the windows. She spends the night on a sofa dumped on a street corner and eventually starts walking. She bumps into a friend of Ted’s (Brian McGuire), who refuses to give her a lift but doesn’t complain when she gets into his S.U.V. anyway. He’s going out of the city, and when he realizes Sara is feeling sad sings “Crazy” by Patsy Cline to try to cheer her up. When he stops for gas Sara wanders off. Outside a liquor store (which is flying a Trump flag) someone’s parked their car around the side with the engine running. No one’s around. Sara gets behind the wheel and drives off, going who cares which way. When she realizes there’s no one chasing her, she starts to cry.

That car – a battered old Camry with a cracked dashboard and a CD player – is full of junk, including a green hoodie and enough crumpled dollar bills for gas and a little food. She parks out in the desert and lies on the hood to look at the stars. She has the good luck to find a discarded pair of jeans her size in a dumpster. She washes fully dressed in a river, and brushes her teeth with her fingers. A woman in a S.U.V. lets Sara borrow her phone to call her mother, but only after she hands over her car keys in exchange. The call is a disappointment, but Sara graciously thanks the woman before she sits on a curb and cries.

The movie is designed to make you realize is how America is designed – for all its wide open spaces and promise of hospitality – to keep people scared, which makes them lonely, which makes them scared, which . . . A cheerful couple honeymooning in an R.V. notice Sara on the other side of a parking lot and invite her over by promising not to murder her. She stops in a roadside bar; and the lonely man with face tattoos on the next stool is so enthusiastic about buying a pretty new face a drink that she quickly leaves. Later on, a man who Sara has stopped for directions casually mentions she’s on his property and he could have shot her. “Thank you for not shooting me, sir,” Sara says in a small voice. It’s no wonder she focuses on listening to the handmade “For Mimi” CD she finds in the car, of a man (John Hawkes, who wrote the songs he sings himself) chatting to a woman named guess what in between love songs. But for the most part the people she meets are just as lonely as her, and despite their curiosity mean neither kindness nor harm. The indifference hurts, but there’s also a brief interlude at a motel where Sara dodges the bill by swimming naked in the pool to hurt the feelings of the prudish young desk clerk. In another encounter, Sara offers a ride to a man in a strange sunhat who identifies himself as a film producer (Chris Hanley, who produced “Spring Breakers” among others). It’s through him that Sara realizes the man on the CD is not just an idea, and it’s because of that realization that she makes the strange final decision that wraps up the movie deliciously – but which cannot be discussed without spoilers. It’s rare and unusual enough that it ought to be seen for itself, in how it tips the entire movie from a strange, sad adventure into a cockeyed blessing.

It's been a while since we’ve had an American road movie by an non-American director (the movie was made with Polish funding); it’s been even longer since we’ve had a road movie about a woman on her own; and it’s been even longer than that since we’ve had a road movie about a woman on her own without sex in it. As Sara quietly works through her shock and grief to wonder if she has the resources to survive, her behavior starts to make perfect sense. Her life is a strange new world now, and she has to discover it herself. We are all born naked; at least she has the green dress, the white shoes, and the stolen car with which to explore it on her own. Anyone who similarly discovers this wonderful movie is in for a treat.


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