On the surface, we've seen films like Roving Woman before.
However, Roving Woman is a tad different. It's a little more introspective, a lot more meandering, and almost Nomadland-like in its dedication to its key character's journey. That key character, Sara (Lena Gora), has been kicked out of her home amidst a break-up from a relationship that seems to have defined her existence. She's directionless, at times downright weird, as she begins our film standing upon the doorstep of her ex in a ballgown. A stolen car later, Sara begins wandering aimlessly searching for something she can't really identify and if we're being honest it's not completely sure if she ever finds it. I doubt Sara knows.
Roving Woman is having its world premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival and it seems destined to gain mixed reactions. We've seen films like this one before, however, it's not been often that we've seen a film play out quite like this one. Roving Woman doesn't really go where we expect it to go. In fact, at times, I'm not really sure it even goes at all. It's a film where the silence means something and we're forced to allow it to linger to the point we're likely a little uncomfortable.
Gora, who co-wrote Roving Woman with director Michal Chmielewski, is a fiercely attractive woman in real life who seems able to tap into Sara's free-spirited nature that seems almost plain at times. Sara possesses a soulfulness that all of us can see, though I doubt she can see it within herself. Roving Woman is a quirky little film that never quite plays up that quirk. There's something not quite right about Sara, though we come to accept that's really just Sara. Sara is impulsive to such a point that at times you can't help but wonder if it's mental illness - bipolar disorder, in particular, came to mind. She steals a car, then seemingly falls in love with its owner. She sets out on a journey determined to find him and ends up finding quite a bit more.
Gora is incredibly lovely here, not just her physical presence but the way that she surrenders herself to the role of Sara. This feels like a loved in performance and a character with whom she can identify. The film is dedicated to the mysterious 1974 disappearance of Connie Converse, a singer-songwriter who vanished without a trace. That's what I mean here, though. It's easy to feel like there's not much happening during Roving Woman.
Yet, this is simply untrue.
Converse left her home at the age of 50 in search of a new life. She was never heard from again.
While not everything in Converse's life unfolds here, this is not an autobiography of any sort, familiarity with her story adds a layer of depth as you watch Sara's road journey unfold. It adds meaning, at times, to those things that don't quite make enough sense.
While Roving Woman clearly centers around Gora, the ensemble cast is essential and quite exceptional. If you know me, one of the nation's leading disabled film journalists and a passionate advocate for authentic representation in film, then you'll know I delight in the casting of the marvelous Crystal Rivers here as Crissie, one of the unique souls Sara encounters along her journey and easily one of the most engaging here alongside her real-life husband Bear Badeaux. The two are an absolute delight and I'd easily watch a film solely about them.
Roving Woman also features a brief yet memorable turn by Academy Award nominee John Hawkes, an indie legend who reminds us why within the slight framework of a few minutes of screen time.
Lensing by Lukasz Dziedzic is immersive and quietly observational. It's almost jarring how often the camera just lingers on the road or on Sara or on a single object as if it's the only object in the world. The camera loves Gora, unsurprisingly, yet it also loves her quirks and little tics and even the slightest of physical expressions.
Roving Woman isn't a slight film, though it's also not a dialogue heavy film. It's a film where we're searching alongside Sara for something else that we're hoping we'll realize when we find it. We may. We may not. Regardless, the search itself is quietly remarkable here and for those willing to be patient with the film it's a meaningful, thoughtful journey that won't be quickly forgotten.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic