The trip starts strong, but then it sputters.

This is a review of “Drive My Car” was first published on July 11 after the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ryusuke Hayaguchi, a Japanese director who has only a short career, has often used literary touches in tracking the passage of time. His 317-minute debut, “Happy Hour”He was spread out like a novel. His recent Berlin winner “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”Divide the subject into an Anthology. 

He’s even evoked such interests with his film’s titles, naming his 2018 Cannes competition entry “Asako I and II”We want to emphasize the fact we can all be totally different at different stages in our lives.

It continues like this “Drive My Car”It rolls its opening credits 40 minutes into the film. This gives you the feeling that Hamaguchi may be playing with the idea that prologues are elements that lie just beyond a narrative that shades all that follows. It’s a wonderful impulse that works beautifully in the film — perhaps a little too beautifully, however, because the prologue outshines everything that comes next.

It’s not so “Drive My Car” is in any way a misfire; it just takes a risk that doesn’t quite work. But why fault a film for trying — especially when the initial results are so achingly good, evoking with such precision the fraught but loving marriage between stage actor Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima). They enter middle age having buried their only child many years earlier. However, the marriage is built on love and infidelity, although it’s a solid foundation. 

Kafuku had become a widower by the time the titles hit and the story has progressed two years. He is still reeling from the loss and jumps at the chance of directing a multilingual, multicultural adaptation. “Uncle Vanya,”Each actor comes from a different country, speaks a different language, and is able to communicate in a different way. He accepts this partly because the hour-long journey between his residence and the theatre gives him more time to relax in his red SAAB while Oto tapes his lines.

But into the picture comes the taciturn Misaki (Toko Miura), a young woman hired to … well, you know the song, and it’s an old favorite: Two strangers spend hours in each other’s company, gradually warming to each other, finally helping one another heal and grow. I’m sure you can sing along. 

Based on a Haruki Murakami short story, the film nevertheless benefits from many of Hamaguchi and co-writer Takamasa Oe’s original ideas. The original text is only a 30-page story. “Drive My Car”This book is full of delightful flourishes and charming tangents, which aren’t found in the original source. They are accompanied by a heavy dose of melodrama, which takes over the final act. It is predicated upon an emotional investment that simply never grows. After starting strong, the vehicle slows down in the final laps.  Still, an odd whiff shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Ryusuke Hamaguchi. If past is prologue, he’ll be firing on all cylinders soon enough.  

“Drive My Car”Released in limited theatrical release on November 24,

Check out ’s digital Cannes magazine issue here. You can find all of ’s Cannes coverage here.

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