The internet’s fast rise and international ubiquity have transformed the world into a much smaller place. Every day, people are exposed to new music, food, literature, public speakers, creative thinkers, political activists, and philosophers that they would never otherwise encounter. Now more than ever, people are reaching the same earth-shattering conclusion: where you’re from isn’t always the place you’re supposed to be.
Writer-director, Jordan Roberts’ latest film, Burn Your Maps, takes this concept to a philosophical extreme. The movie focuses on a young American boy who believes his true calling is beckoning him from half-way around the world. Roberts combines an endearing story, charming characters, and strong performances to put together a feel-good story that reflects the current socio-political moment.
Connor (Marton Csokas) and Alise’s (Vera Farmiga) marriage is under duress. After first meeting the couple during a therapy session, it doesn’t take long for their relationship’s tension to surface. Caught in the middle of the emotional turmoil is their son Wes (Jacob Tremblay). Wes is too young to understand his parent’s complicated feelings, yet old enough to feel their anguish, and as the cloud shrouding his family darkens, Wes develops a strange coping mechanism: he believes he houses the soul of a Mongolian goat herder. As the stress between Connor and Alise threatens to fracture their family’s bond, Wes’ spiritual journey may be what they needed all along.
Farmiga turns in her usual strong performance and Tremblay radiates charm, but it’s the film’s role-players that steal the most scenes. Virginia Madsen is an actress who can’t turn up in enough films, and despite not having much to do, her soulful voice and weary eyes are a steadying presence that helps anchor a film with an outlandish premise. Ramon Rodriguez, who can pull off charismatic in his sleep, also makes the most out of limited screen time. He is so damn likable that he navigates some tricky emotional territory without turning the audience against him.
However, in a film full of strong performances, it’s Suraj Sharma’s role as Ismail that will leave people buzzing long after the film. Sharma’s strong outing shouldn’t surprise anyone who watched The Life of Pi (sorry Richard Parker fans, but it was Sharma that carried the film). Ismail is naïve, dickish without being off-putting, and a flat-out assassin when it comes to comedic timing. Ismail is exactly the kind of role that leaves me scrolling through an actor’s IMDb page, anxious to see what’s coming down the line.
Burn Your Maps biggest flaw is its predictability, as the film settles into familiar feel-good movie territory and never deviates. Stories don’t need The Sixth Sense-style plot twists to keep the audience engaged, yet they also don’t pack the same emotional punch when viewers see their feel-good ending from a mile away. For many, this won’t be an issue, however (some people cry every time they see Titanic despite –spoilers!!!– knowing the ship sinks), and Burn Your Maps‘ predictability is a nit-pic that will mostly just annoy movie snobs.
Burn Your Maps is a thought-provoking film, capable of inspiring belly-laughs and joyful sobs. In 2017, it’s no longer a given that the life we’re born into is the life we’re meant to live. Roberts broaches this subject with incisiveness, empathy, and class.