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New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - HIGHWAY ONE

highway one review
A group of friends gather for a New Year's Eve party.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jaclyn Bethany

Starring: Stella Baker, Aisha Fabienne Ross, Ivy George, Greta Bellamacina

highway one poster

New Year’s Eve: the absolute worst night of the calendar. Hallowe’en, Xmas, even Harvest Day in school have been and gone, and then the dark spectre of NYE rises, the year’s final demonstration that its season of wintery fun which everyone works towards is definitively OVER for another year. NYE party? A packed group of once-a-year drinkers in an overpriced pub or, more poignantly, exhausted friends/family in a tired house incongruously festooned with out of date tinsel, where everyone is restlessly expecting something, anything to happen but it never ever does? No thanks. The very definition of forced fun. And in writer/director Jaclyn Bethany’s Highway One we are to spend it with (God help) ‘a gaggle of eccentric millennials’ (according to imdb’s synopsis). So, the worst night of the year with the worst possible people? For the sake of Auld Lang Syne, indeed!

Before we go in, it’s not the phenomena of people ‘reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century’ (dictionary.com) which should be taken issue with (it me, after all), but the tiresome sobriquet ‘millennial’, with all its connotations of preciousness, vanity and unearned exceptionalism. Highway One leans into this media confected stereotype, with a bunch of startlingly un-diverse examples of the demographic converging on an end of year shindig somewhere in California. Low-key, conceited drama arises when ‘Nina, a long-gone friend from high school unexpectedly shows up, bringing out the feelings of Maria’. Strap yourself in, yeah?

highway one review

In the loose events which constitute the film, we witness a parade of egotists flouncing about for around an hour, very pleased with themselves even when bravely expressing some sort of anxiety about feelings and/or identity. Some things happen: a male character professes to be Russian (he wears a ushanka with a Red Star logo, and speaks in a deep voice) but then isn’t Russian, actually; someone talks about being emotional but unable to cry; one boy might, be....gay! And then some absolute piece of shit eats a goldfish. I think that was the point where Highway One justified itself to me, and instead of experiencing an increasingly pernicious misgiving that the problem was personal, and that I was maybe jealous of the empty confidence and bland glamours of the film’s denizens, I realised with relief that, nah, I’m still the king and it’s these people who are nobs.


I am aware that the review has taken an improperly subjective tone, but this is the inevitable response which Highway One invites. Any potential the film has rests upon your tolerance for these narcissists, and the series of non-causal, seemingly improvised, skits involving them which make up the running time.

highway one review

Take the above incident (Gen Y as re-imagined by Ruggero Deodato...). We don’t actually witness anyone consume said carp, but we do see someone exclaim with wonder that the goldfish bowl is empty, and ask the girl stood next to it if they ate the recent inhabitant. She replies that she did. To which the inquisitive goon exclaims, ‘that’s...amazing’ and we are supposed to think it is lol random. In what fucking world is eating a goldfish amazing? You killed a sentient being for (apparently minimal) clout. I dunno.


Dissatisfied with the given narrative, I imagined a back story. You know, perhaps the person who lives in this house may have lots of friends, even lovers, people around them. But their life is lonely. The relationships she’s forged are superficial and based on the spurious coincidences of being a similar age, or within shared social contexts. She wonders sometimes if she even likes her friends, or if they, indeed, like her. After all, they all seem sorta... self-absorbed? An actor by trade, she can’t really commit to having a dog or a cat - who knows when she may be on location for weeks, and the inconsistent nature of the profession means that she couldn’t care for a pet, not really, anyway. But a goldfish might be ok. It’s low maintenance: it isn’t too much to ask someone to pop in and feed it if she’s away. And, you know what, she discovers that it is actually a joy to feed this fish. Perhaps she’s called it Comet. They say that goldfish have a three-minute memory, but if that’s so then explain how at the same time every morning Comet is nibbling at the surface tension of her water, happily waiting for her owner to sprinkle it with multicoloured flakes? And when she sees Comet making short work of her breakfast, she knows it is silly, but nevertheless she feels that she has a purpose, that she is needed and that someone looks forward to seeing her. She feels valued. And then some prick goes and eats Comet. Why? Because the absolute vacuity which governs this film, its characters and narrative line, felt, in the absence of all else, that it was something to do. In a film which purports to be about the harmless folly of young people, Highway One has an absolute lack of humanity. Later on, another character will intensely muse upon whether she is ‘inscrutable’ or ‘mysterious’; mate, the word you are looking for is ‘basic’.

highway one review

It’s all sound-tracked with a plinky plonky bal-musette backing, which I presume is supposed to promote whimsy and a knowingly apologetic tone for the characters’ collective insipidity, but it grates. An industry veteran, Bethany’s filmmaking is however slick and vivid, with variations of lighting palettes utilised throughout the film which does give the impression of visual range. But the distinct cinematographies in Highway One, along with its loose, vignette-led plot structure where everyone gets to have their turn, makes it feel less like a movie and more an extended show reel. This is a conceit all but qualified by the closing moments, where it transpires that we’ve been watching a film within a film, where a bunch of annoying millennials have got together to make a film featuring annoying millennials on New Year’s Eve. It’s like the French New Wave or Scream 3. Was Highway One after all a coruscating satire about pescatarian self-facilitating media nodes? If so, then I take it all back and five stars. But the whimsical voice-over which continues over the closing sequences of the crew taking the set down, and doesn’t skip a self-important beat, suggests otherwise. RIP Comet.

Highway One is in UK cinemas from November 5th and on UK/ROI VOD from November 8th.



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