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Friday, April 19, 2024

Review: ‘Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film)’ proves the young artist as a creative force 

Layercake: The documentary follows the making of her critically acclaimed debut album

 

By CLARA FISCHER — arts@theaggie.org

 

Teen superstar Olivia Rodrigo is taking the world by storm. Bursting onto the scene in the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical,” the 19-year-old sensation has far and away transcended her old costars, with her debut album breaking myriad records in its first few weeks. She shows no sign of letting up, recently walking away from her very first Grammys ceremony with a clean sweep and three shiny, new awards.

Her newest project is a venture back into familiar territory — another endeavor with Disney+, but this time, she stars in her own film documenting her sudden rise to fame. “Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film)” showcases the creative process behind the making of her debut album, “SOUR.” Shot in various locations on a road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, the film goes through each track on the album, delving into the conception of each song as narrated by Rodrigo herself and followed by a performance of said track.

Her first performance begins as a stripped-down rendition of “happier” placed in a suburban-like home and sets the deeply personal tone of the whole film. Rodrigo is portrayed as a simple songwriter who sits on the floor of her room and belts out ballads to her keyboard — a creative choice that reflects her humble beginnings.

“jealousy, jealousy” is an ode to the adolescent need for validation felt by so many, with the grunge-like performance reflecting that angst. “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is presented as an acoustic rendition set in a van moving across the picturesque Arizona landscape. These performances and each that follow vary widely in their artistic rendering, with some utilizing nothing but a guitar and others bringing in a full-fledged orchestra. They all serve to showcase Rodrigo’s versatility as an artist and, perhaps, represent the journey she’s been on to find her footing, both as a young woman and in the music industry.

The creation of “brutal” stands out as a scene that encompasses the purpose of the film at its core. Viewers see how quickly Rodrigo and her producer, Dan Nigro, are able to create the song seemingly out of thin air after Rodrigo lets the viewers (and her record label) know that she wants another “upbeat” track on the album five days before the tracklist is set to be released. Nigro laughs, but once he realizes that she’s serious, quickly strums a motif on the guitar, and the rest of the song flows from there. Seeing their creative genius bounce off each other to create (in my opinion) one of the album’s best tracks speaks to the impressive natural talent and passion the two both have for music. It also helps that immediately following this scene, viewers are treated to a punk-rock performance in an abandoned airplane hangar that perfectly encapsulates the angsty rage of the song: headbanging, platform boots, Blu DeTiger and all. 

More than anything, the film feels very personal — almost as if viewers are getting a look inside a dreamy, artfully staged version of Rodrigo’s brain itself. In one scene, she reflects on her upbringing as a child actor and how the constant praise and lack of criticism caused her to default to the other end of the spectrum, unable to accept any compliments and being much too harsh on herself. This form of imposter syndrome defines many young people’s experiences transitioning into the adult world, even among those who don’t have three Grammy awards under their belt. Through her unyielding expression of vulnerability in “driving home 2 u,” Rodrigo shows that under it all, she is still just a young woman beginning to find her place in the world.

“I’ve grown, like, five years worth in one year,” Rodrigo said with a laugh as the screen showed sweeping shots of Malibu beaches. Through releasing the film on the same platform on which she found mainstream success only a few years ago, Rodrigo is able to prove this statement correct. Her creative voice shines through bright and clear, from the artistic renditions of her own songs to the reflective tones of her narration. “driving home 2 u” is a love letter to herself, while at the same time serving as a reminder to be proud of your own journey into adulthood.

 

Written by: Clara Fischer — arts@theaggie.org

 

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