Arts and Entertainment

On the Road With Olivia Rodrigo: From Salt Lake to “SOUR”

In “Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film),” Olivia Rodrigo takes viewers on an enchanting road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, describing the inspiration for her debut album “SOUR.”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Phoebe Buckwalter

Olivia Rodrigo, like many before her, clawed her way out of Magic Kingdom and to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It wasn’t until she released her debut single “drivers license” in January 2021 that she broke into the mainstream, hitting number one in 48 countries and breaking records on music streaming services. Just over four months later, the Grammy-winner released her debut album “SOUR” in 2021, with songs like “deja vu” and “good 4 u” becoming radio hits overnight. In her new collaboration with Disney+, “Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film),” Rodrigo describes her creative process and the heartbreak behind each of her songs.

The documentary, produced by Interscope Films and Supper Club, follows Rodrigo as she embarks on a road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles in her vintage baby blue Ford Bronco, revisiting the places where she wrote the album with “older eyes.” Along the way, Rodrigo unpacks her lyrics and performs new live arrangements of her songs in the places that inspired her. Featuring interviews, footage of the production process, and home videos, “driving home 2 u” tells the story of Rodrigo’s ascent to stardom, touching on topics like her anxiety and journey of self-forgiveness.

At times slow and predictable, the film aims to appeal to Gen Z audiences by embracing the vintage aesthetic: grainy filters, polaroids, worn leather jackets, and neon diner lights. It depicts Utah as one giant ghost town, which it is for Rodrigo. These are the places Rodrigo fell both in and out of love with, which is clear through director Stacy Lee’s creative decisions that romanticize the great American road trip through shots of desert landscapes, vacant gas stations, dated motel rooms, and even public restrooms. But the emphasis on the mundane borders on comical: one can picture an entire camera crew crowding into cramped gas station bathrooms to film moments of self-reflection.

Despite these shortcomings, “driving home 2 u” masterfully conveys the inner turmoil that comes with the songwriting process on the world stage. Footage of Rodrigo’s conversations with producer Dan Nigro demonstrates the attention to detail that goes into every aspect of production. Rodrigo shares her first drafts of hit songs like “drivers license,” describing the conflicting feelings of pride and self-doubt that come with releasing music. Although many scenes are clearly scripted, Rodrigo possesses a rare and genuine relatability that is present in her thoughtful narration. She discusses the struggles shared by young women around the world, from experiencing first heartbreaks to coping with unrealistic beauty standards promoted by social media. Rodrigo provides audiences with insight into what “SOUR” means to her, explaining that when “it felt like [her] world was ending almost everyday,” writing songs allowed her to create a friend for herself.

However, her songs are presented with some strange musical performance choices in “driving home 2 u.” “happier” and “deja vu” are both filmed with Rodrigo and the entire band awkwardly seated. For the “happier” performance, the band is spread out across multiple carpeted rooms with pastel walls, and the camera pans from room to room. Similarly, “deja vu” features Rodrigo and her band perched in a row on the rooftop of Motor Vu Drive-in Theater, sitting cross-legged. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “jealousy, jealousy” and “brutal” are performed with so much dramatic hair flipping and stomping around in combat boots that they feel almost like parodies. Underneath a bustling freeway and inside an abandoned airplane in the Mojave Desert, Rodrigo jumps around, bobbing her head emphatically to the music as the camera view shakes violently. Choreography aside, Rodrigo’s vocals are consistently impressive, supported by a reservoir of emotion that she taps into on a whim, adding texture to every performance.

The highlight of the documentary is Rodrigo’s performance of “good 4 u,” filmed in Red Rock Canyon State Park, California. The Pop-punk heartbreak anthem is reinvented with a string orchestra, creating an iconic performance that is dramatized by the rich colors of the rock strata in the background. The sophistication of the orchestral backing contrasts with the teenage angst fueling Rodrigo’s lyrics, hinting at the societal pressure young women feel to grow up gracefully. In the final chorus, Rodrigo switches to her lower register, a rarity in most of her songs. Her chest voice supplies a warmth and richness to the lyrics that allows her vulnerability and authenticity to shine.

As the film draws to a close, Rodrigo is seen running into the ocean, wading through the choppy blue waves at the end of the most hectic, extraordinary year of her life. “SOUR” is a pandemic record, and “driving home 2 u” is a pandemic film. The crushing weight of quarantine’s solitude and the unrelenting grip of memory encircle them both, managing to create something captivating from broken pieces. The beauty of the documentary is that it manages to capture all of this through the eyes of a world-renowned singer while maintaining her humanity. Rodrigo herself admits, “You want people to look at you for your talent and your skill and you’re also, you know, 18. I want people to think I’m pretty and cool.” Rodrigo’s magic comes from her ability to string words together in a way that’s universally moving, but at the end of the day, she’s just a teenage girl trying her best.