On the Road Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the band’s UK and Ireland tour. On the one hand, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom had complete access backstage, so he catches the band members on the tour bus, in the dressing room and around town. But nothing very interesting happens with them, and their performances are cut short on-screen. Instead, there’s an awkward fictional storyline stirred in that feels like little more than a distraction.

This artificial plot centres on 21-year-old London music executive Estelle (Leah Harvey), who joins Wolf Alice as they travel to Belfast and Dublin, then crisscross England, Scotland and Wales before heading to London. Along the way, Estelle falls for roadie Joe (James McArdle) and they have a rather torrid fling. Meanwhile, the bandmates (Ellie Rowsell, Joff Oddie, Joel Amey and Theo Ellis) are lounging around, trying to find time to sleep, doing interviews with local press and having photo shoots in between their gigs, at which they’re supported by Bloody Knees and Swim Deep.

Oddly, the film doesn’t really work as a rock doc, since Winterbottom only includes snippets of the songs. This is a shame, since Rowsell has so much stage charisma, elevating Wolf Alice’s distinct brand of edgy pop. But the strangest thing is that the bandmates never get up to any backstage antics at all. They have some late-night raves in pubs, but they otherwise reveal very little about themselves. Even in the interviews, the questions are all resolutely superficial. Instead, the movie seeks some emotional interest in the romance between Estelle and Joe, cross-cutting their languid sex with the band’s stage performances. Both Harvey and McArdle are solid in the roles, but there’s no context to their interaction. And the meeting with his mother (a cameo from Shirley Henderson) in Glasgow is bizarrely pointless.

As the film goes along, you can almost feel Winterbottom trying to salvage something from the material he so beautifully shot on the road. But in trying to make a movie to appeal to wider audiences, he’s likely to alienate everyone. People who love Wolf Alice will want a lot more than this. Those mildly interested won’t learn anything new. And audiences just looking for an offbeat band tour drama will scratch their heads wondering why this movie was made at all. Rowsell and her band have a lot of presence. If only Winterbottom had deleted the fiction and given us a storming concert movie instead.