As suggested by its title, The Odd Way Home is not your typical road movie. After fleeing an abusive boyfriend with a bloodied face, several bottles of pills, and a gun, Maya (Rumer Willis) runs into car trouble. She walks to the nearest house to use the phone, but instead stumbles upon an old woman, dead on her couch. Sensing opportunity, Maya takes the money from her wallet and slips outside to “borrow” the woman’s vehicle, a sort of converted delivery truck/trailer. It’s not long before she discovers that she is not alone. Duncan (Chris Marquette) is in the back, observing his carefully-timed morning tooth brushing ritual. Her instinct is to throw him out and keep going, but there is something different about Duncan, something sad and guileless that prevents her from leaving him on the side of the road.
As it turns out, Duncan has Autism and functions in a sheltered realm of meticulously scheduled events and familiar activities. He had not yet noticed that his grandmother was dead. And so Maya starts over, taking him back home, explaining his grandmother’s death, and attempting to figure out where this lost soul can go now that his only caregiver is gone. Realizing he has no one, Maya decides to drive Duncan to see his estranged father and (hopefully) reunite them. Though Duncan indicates that this is not going to work, Maya can think of no better solution. She certainly can’t just abandon him.
It would be a stretch to find two more random traveling companions than Maya and Duncan, but somehow it works. A tenuous loyalty develops between the two, even though Duncan annoys Maya and Maya kind of scares Duncan. As much as they exasperate one another, they also understand one another. For once in her troubled life, Maya is not the victim, but the protector, and Duncan…well, Duncan isn’t quite sure what to think, but Maya (in her way) is kind to him. She helps him stay on schedule with tooth brushing and bathroom breaks, and she finds him the special brown paper towels he likes to use for drawing. In short, they become friends.
As the journey progresses, this friendship becomes increasingly important. It’s easy to see Maya as a bit of a hard case, constantly popping pills and well-versed in the school of hard knocks, but over the course of the film we learn that she is a talented singer and that she was once in love with someone sweet who never wanted to lose her. She was also horribly abused and carries the physical and emotional scars to prove it. We slowly piece together a portrait of a whole person who feels completely alone in the world. It seems that everywhere she turns is a dead end, but Duncan sticks up for her in his awkward way. He’s the one who tells her, “If you’re sick, you need to go to the doctor.” And somehow, perhaps because no one bothered to say it before, Maya listens to him.
Much of what happens in The Odd Way Home stretches the bounds of believability (many of Maya’s actions would have legal ramifications, and some of her medical/emotional issues seem to disappear inexplicably), but the sentiment of the film resonates anyway. Two lost, misunderstood souls find hope and comfort in one another, making the road ahead seem slightly less impossible. It’s a movie about finding beauty and joy regardless of the darkness in your life. Sometimes it just takes a friend to show you where to look.
DVD extras include a Behind The Scenes featurette, the film’s trailer, and the compelling short film “Six Letter Word” (also starring Rumer Willis).