By Peter Frost
Walk Away, Renee is one hell of a trip. It not only chronicles the cross-country journey that director and star of the film Jonathan Caouette and his mentally ill mother, the titular Renee LeBlanc, take, beginning in Houston and ending in New York. But also, along the way, the two manage to unpack emotional baggage that proves to be much trickier to navigate than the open road.
The documentary functions as a continuation of Caouette's critically acclaimed 2004 film Tarnation, which chronicles his mother's struggles with mental illness after being treated with electroshock therapy as a child. Building upon themes established in the earlier work, Walk Away, Renee employs flashbacks (both fictional and true), a musical number, and psychedelic sequences, all while covering the emotional and physical ground between their two worlds.
The film's plot, structured loosely around the road trip, includes segments that address mental illness, aging, and homosexuality, all while Caouette employs techniques that prevent the film from establishing a traditional narrative. However, watching these moving parts in context, it makes sense: this relationship is anything but ordinary, why should the documentary chronicling it be any different?
Walk Away, Renee manages to capture the intricacies of this mother and son relationship as they travel from one world to another, shining light on the small moments along the way that are often missed in broader renderings of similar themes. With his latest, Caouette proves an old cliché true: It is really is about the journey, not the destination.
'Walk Away, Renee' can be viewed on demand via SundanceNOW's Doc Club.