Thursday, September 1, 2022

Root Letter: Movie Review

Dark and interesting mystery thriller.

Root Letter has a really interesting premise, but not fleshed out as well as it could be. A story of two teenagers with a lot more in common than first assumed brought together by a class assignment. English teachers around the country have assigned pen pals to encourage writing. Most students wouldn’t take this seriously and the teachers don’t expect them to, but this movie only needs two students to care.   2022

Directed by: Sonja O'Hara

Screenplay by: David Ebeltoft

Starring: Danny Ramirez, Keana Marie

And this movie created the two such characters who would care and characters that the audience is going to care about as well. Carlos (Danny Ramirez) is in the hospital when we first meet him, and we don’t know much other than he’s living on his own because his father is unreliable and his mother even more so. Sarah (Keana Marie) writes the first letter. She talks about music and what her friends are like with small inferences to an unhappy home life. Meanwhile we see Sarah at home, a drug-addicted mother who can’t cook or clean or keep a job. Her friends are aspiring drug dealers, but Sarah just wants to be a normal teenager. A pen pal relationship with Carlos is her only venue to just write, to just be herself with nobody expecting illegal favors from her.

The story does not unfold linearly. Carlos receives a final letter from Sarah a year after she stopped writing telling him she’s in trouble, she may have killed a guy. With nothing other than a handful of letters from her, Carlos makes his way to Baton Rouge to try and find Sarah, to try and help her.

The trouble that Sarah has gotten herself into is slowly revealed throughout the movie, intercut with Carlos in the present timeline trying to piece together elements of Sarah’s life and where she might be now. That mystery element of Carlos trying to track down a girl he barely knows is handled really well because of the built-in empathy with both characters. The audience can understand why Sarah and Carlos are drawn to each other even though they don’t really know each other. That is contrasted with the people in Sarah’s life who do know her and don’t care at all what has happened to her.

It's an interesting powerful story, but the lack of cohesion in how it’s presented keeps the audience further away than necessary. It’s a very dark story, rough around the edges and hard to get into with a fairly abrupt ending. Root Letter could have more of an impact with a more linear approach to the story and a fleshed out ending, but it’s still interesting enough to keep viewers connected throughout.