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Rhea Chatterji | April 18, 2022

Strip away the glamour, the stardom, the success. Strip away the gorgeous ringlets of hair, flawless makeup, designer wear, the manicured nails, the accolades, the dream life summed up in one, and you get a girl no different to us—accustomed to pain, difficulties and desolation—the unattractive side of life.

Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film) tells of the artist’s unrequited love that manifested into the most popular music album in the world. Sharing intimate details never broached before, the singer-songwriter appears more vulnerable than ever in her latest cinematic endeavour.

“This relationship was definitely the heartbreak that kept on giving. I was in this situation where I had to see him. He was with someone else, which was devastating to me,” explains Rodrigo. “I felt like my world was ending almost every day.” Such angst offered no recourse except through song writing. “Nobody understood how I was feeling or related to it, and so I think by writing songs about exactly how I felt, I was creating a friend for me.” Little did she know, there would be millions who shared her sorrow, and who would similarly seek refuge in her musical threnodies.

Olivia Rodrigo has been unremittent in supplying us with SOUR content. If her lyrics dripping with dysphoric emotion weren’t enough, her film captures the popstar’s disconsolate streak in the months surrounding her breakup, one quite contradictory to her glamourous persona.

The film starts off with Rodrigo recumbent pensively on a bed, pondering a response to “how would I describe this chapter of my life?” The scene cuts to a montage of emotional clips filmed during the first couple of days after the release of ‘drivers license’. The opening features Rodrigo’s impression when she hears her creation on the radio for the first time—teary and overcome with ecstatic disbelief, she squeals “oh my god it’s on the radio!” The scene, choked with sentimentality, provokes tears from the film’s get-go, making it officially impossible to listen to Rodrigo’s work without reaching for tissues at some point.

We then follow Rodrigo as she retraces her steps in the creation of her ground-breaking album that continues to make headlines nearly a year on. Progressing chronologically, we meet each song on the SOUR track list as it came to be. With some context we can piece together the meaning and reason behind the lyrics, before Rodrigo puts on a concert for us in our own room.

Credit: Disney+ / Interscope Records

The stories behind her songs leave us both sympathetic of her plight as well as in great admiration for her ability to transform raw intense emotions of deep insecurity, loneliness, depression and apprehension into beautifully poetic and meaningful lyrics that everyone can relate to. She does not shy away from calling out uncomfortable, unspoken feelings but spearheads an era of acceptance and forthrightness about these topics. When recalling the backstory to ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’, Rodrigo chortles as she relates: “I just wrote this song actually the day before this guy broke up with me. [So] I remember not being able to listen to it for a while.” 

Utilising her experience with tumultuous relationships, the artist imparts a bit of sagacity to her audience. She explains “[I] feel like you can never really settle into that feeling of being loved and accepted” with “someone who is so inconsistent. [It] is so challenging and just really anxiety inducing and makes you feel so insecure.”

Recalling her own apprehensions, Rodrigo with “friend and musician”, Jacob Collier atop a jeep bonnet admits “I think the worst part about being in love is having something to lose … when you have something that’s so amazing it just feels kinda scary ‘cause it’s like ‘what happens if that goes away?’” Here she cues the entry of ‘drivers license’, a melodic lament over a relationship that once was. It becomes increasingly evident that Rodrigo’s lyrics are more than just words in a song—they are true emotions that embody everything she has endured, and very much like putting her heart out on a platter for the world to observe. 

“There’s nothing that connects people and there’s nothing that’s like a truer window into human emotion than music.”

—Olivia Rodrigo

The film is brilliant in its editing, portraying Rodrigo in and out of performance, and meaningfully editing clips of the unreleased songs into her recollective conversation. Even the stunning landscape scenes are built into the film’s artistic attempt at rewinding time, back to Rodrigo’s frame of mind in the early stages of the creation of SOUR. For this purpose, the set-up has the artist drive between Salt Lake City, Utah and Los Angeles, the backdrop against which she came to write many of her songs; in doing so, the artist retraces her route and thoughts at the time.

As someone who is familiar with her work prior to ‘drivers license’, I felt the film revealed more of Rodrigo to me than I’d ever known before. It depicted her in a raw, vulnerable light—so friendly, so modest and so genuine that one can’t help but take a liking to her. Rodrigo appears more as an amiable friend rather than the glamourous popstar we’ve grown acquainted with over the last year, and is presented as any other teenage girl reeling from a breakup. When she speaks to us, it comes across as a typical conversation with a genuine friend, relating stories and sharing advice—it feels casual and sentimental, and I believe this made her all the more relatable to us. For the fans, her amiability only grows. On the other hand, viewers new to her art, guided by curiosity, might discover a new favourite as they meet the artist and her songs in one sitting. This makes a great introduction as those, tuning in for the first time, listen to the songs with her intentions in mind, creating a deeper listening experience.

By the closing credits, we are left feeling empowered by Rodrigo’s inspirational tale of rebound. The relatability of her narrative, in a sense, liberates us from insecurities, valuing others’ perception over our own, self-doubt and all the mental blocks that restrict us. We leave feeling free from these shackles and inspired to grow into our best selves.

Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u is now streaming on Disney+.

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Rhea Chatterji

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