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'driving home 2 u': Sweet, not SOUR

I went into my watch of "driving home 2 u," which came out on March 25, with no knowledge of what it was, so I was surprised that it was a documentary. I was expecting something along the lines of a love child of Olivia Rodrigo’s "SOUR Prom" and Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” short film. I was hoping for some kind of creative representation of the story behind the songs, but what I found was very different. "driving home 2 u," on Disney+, came close to "SOUR Prom" in that it debuted uniquely directed performances of every song on the album "SOUR" (which I thought was a little repetitive for Rodrigo), but it also covered the story of the creation of the album in a novel and interesting way.

Purportedly, "SOUR" was written by Olivia Rodrigo in some liminal space between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. The documentary very prettily covered the drive between the two cities as a metaphor for the journey of writing and creating, which added the fictional element I had originally been looking for. This was enhanced by overtly dramatized and unrealistic sets — Rodrigo performed and spoke in pastel diners (supposedly recreations of the ones she visited during her actual trips) and empty gas stations in the middle of the desert, in antique motel rooms and in the middle of the forest. She drove this odd, dusty Jeep that must have cost a fortune from an antique car collector. It was so obviously well-designed that it didn’t seem like a documentary; at one point they even showed the circular camera track used to film one section of performance. There was an element of falsehood which did not help the scriptedness of the interview content itself.

There were scenes that were obviously shot for the film, forced positive testimonials from Rodrigo’s co-creators, and barely-veiled allusions to the motivations for songs like “driver’s license.” Throughout, Rodrigo seemed to shirk off the fact that much of her album was known to be a public call-out of Joshua Basset. Instead, Rodrigo focused on what she referred to often as “devastation” on the album. While I obviously cannot attest to the physical, mental, or emotional state of the artist, the way she discussed the real-life behind the album spoke to her background as a child actress — constantly the center of attention and relatively privileged. Even her claim that she felt so caught up with her newfound fame rang empty in the context of her childhood stardom and clear intention to capitalize on the lottery win of “driver’s license” by hastily throwing together an album from the (may I note, very good) recesses of her voice memos.

That being said, anyone who likes "SOUR" (which I do) probably has in some way connected to the power of Rodrigo’s raw rage — tracks like “brutal” and “good 4 u” trigger a kind of teenage angst that is so appealing, regardless of its origin. Most of Rodrigo’s songs work well because she knows her audience, even if she seemed to avoid that idea in "driving home 2 u." The entire aesthetic of the film seemed angled toward the indie-ification of a pop-oriented artist — both in method and visuals. Anyone who follows Rodrigo closely knows about her deep artistic connection with Taylor Swift, who is equally guilty of trying to add depth to her career in places where there frankly just isn't any.

A well-done, honest aspect of "driving home 2 u" was the sporadic song performances that followed the story of the album. Staging, costuming, and instrumental choices all served to highlight Rodrigo’s spectacular voice and simple writing. I particularly loved the orchestral version of “good 4 u” that pulled out the pain inside of it and the live looping of “traitor” at a gas station.

The film itself was stylistically beautiful and well directed by Stacey Lee. It captured all the interesting facets of Olivia Rodrigo and her artistic journey, while diving into what seemed to me to be an entirely new genre of film. Simultaneously music video, documentary, and fiction, "driving home 2 u" brought new life to Rodrigo’s album.