Early in On My Way, the protagonist, a distraught restaurant owner named Bettie (Catherine Deneuve), stops in a provincial town to try to buy a pack of cigarettes. Because it’s Sunday, none of the shops are open, and she can’t find anyone to bum a cig from, but an elderly man eventually invites her into his house to roll one for her. Trouble is, he’s incredibly slow, fumbling with the paper and loose tobacco for several minutes, and Bettie quickly gets frustrated. More than once, she mentions that she’s ready to smoke it as soon as he’s finished, and that it looks just fine, but he pays her no mind—just keeps sloooowly trying to roll it properly with his fat, gnarled fingers. With no other apparent function, the scene seems expressly designed to let the viewer know that there’s no point in getting impatient, as this isn’t the kind of movie that’s in a hurry to get anywhere in particular. Still, there’s no need for the journey to be quite so blah.
As the title suggests, On My Way is a road movie—the original French title, Elle S’en Va, translates roughly as There She Goes. Having just learned that her lover has finally left his wife, but for a younger woman rather than for her, Bettie impulsively walks out of her restaurant, gets into her car, and just starts driving, with no destination in mind. (As she departs, Rufus Wainwright’s "This Love Affair," which opens with the line "I don’t know what I’m doing," blares on the soundtrack. Subtle.) Following a few picaresque adventures, including a drunken fling with a much younger man she meets at a bar, Bettie gets a call from her semi-estranged daughter (French singer Camille), who asks if she’d be willing to drive her grandson, Charly (Nemo Schiffman), to his paternal grandfather’s house while Mom dashes out of town for an unexpected employment opportunity. The second half of the movie thus turns into a hoary odd-couple routine in which the snotty kid and the self-involved sexagenarian, who barely know each other even though he’s 12, go at each other’s throats before gradually developing the expected bond.
Director Emmanuelle Bercot is also an actress—she’s worked with Claude Miller, Bertrand Tavernier, and Olivier Assayas, among others—and she reportedly wrote the screenplay (in collaboration with Jérôme Tonnerre) specifically for Deneuve. Unfortunately, the movie plays like a star vehicle that’s been hastily thrown together with little regard for rhythm or any overall shape. Charly doesn’t show up until almost the midpoint, and nothing that happens previously builds toward their relationship; nor does a subsequent detour involving Bettie’s participation in a calendar shoot for former beauty-pageant winners seem at all relevant, except insofar as it gives Deneuve yet another emotion to play. What’s more, Schiffman is Bercot’s son, and while that doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from being a good actor, he’s much more Sofia Coppola than Josh Brolin, at least so far. Only Deneuve’s weary glamour gives On My Way some life, and she can do only so much with a role that sees her first bicker with and then fall for both a little boy and a hunky middle-aged politician (Gérard Garouste, who’s primarily a painter, not an actor—Bercot doesn’t seem to trust her own profession much). Sometimes a little impatience is justifiable.