(This review contains some spoilers for the film “driving home 2 u.”)
Olivia Rodrigo, Disney Channel actress turned teen pop star, released her debut album “Sour” in May last year. The project received critical and commercial success upon release with three top-10 singles, multiple broken records on streaming platforms like Spotify and three Grammy wins out of a total of seven nominations. Rodrigo won best new artist, best pop solo performance and best pop vocal album. Due to the worldwide popularity of “Sour,” on March 25, Disney+ produced the highly anticipated, exclusive music documentary titled “driving home 2 u.” Named after a lyric from the singer’s first hit song, “drivers license,” the film centers on Rodrigo recounting the writing and composition process behind each track on the album as she drives around Salt Lake City and the Los Angeles area. In addition to interviews, the documentary also includes clips from Rodrigo’s initial recording sessions and new arrangements of the songs.
Interviews and Home Videos
The most intriguing aspect of “driving home 2 u” is the subject’s passion for and knowledge of songwriting. Even for those who know little about the craft, viewers can easily grasp the journey Rodrigo went on to create all 11 tracks. The singer talks about the songs in the order that they were written rather than from the beginning to the end of the album. By choosing to structure the film this way, the audience can see how “Sour” came to be as well as how Rodrigo’s style and vision changed the more she understood the direction of the album. It is apparent that the singer appreciates the complexities of songwriting, and this excitement translates on-screen. Her happiness and charisma make the audience more interested in her and the film as a whole.
The video recordings reinforce the idea that Rodrigo loves to create music. In the added clips, the singer can be seen with the album’s producer and co-writer on multiple tracks, Dan Nigro. The videos, played in between the interview segments, give insight into the undiscussed parts of the process. The footage also displays the close partnership between Rodrigo and Nigro, and their dynamic radiates creativity. This relationship provides the foundation of the documentary.
Another captivating element of the documentary was the live performances of every song on the album. After Rodrigo explained a track’s development, a live band accompanied her as she sang it in a specific location in Utah or California. Each song is performed in a different place. The musical artist incorporated new arrangements, unique instruments such as a string section for “good 4 u,” and special guests. The songs feel as if they are all mini-concerts mashed together. Anticipating Rodrigo’s next location for her performance keeps viewers intrigued. Plus, because a majority of the songs off of “Sour” are slow-paced ballads, one can just relax, possibly close their eyes and listen to the music.
Even though the performances are entertaining and eye-catching, they do take up a lot of the 77-minute run time. At some points, one could wonder if there was not a lot of background content behind the project or if more could have been shared. Without the shows, the documentary could have been closer to a 30-minute special. Focusing on the musical moments over the context behind each song does disadvantage the film after a while, especially for those who are not avid fans of the tracks and the subject.
Creating a cohesive image is an essential component of the project. Rodrigo spends the majority of the documentary outside in nature or in locations with a well-thought-out look to them. “Driving home 2 u” is just as much of a visual experience as it is a musical one. The singer is already known for her style and associated images; some examples are her use of the color purple, butterflies, stickers and elements inspired by the ‘90s and ‘00s. Focusing on the beauty around her travels aligns with how the public already views her. The visual aspects also hold the audience’s attention and even amaze them at certain times.
Another thing to note has to do with the timing of the film’s release. Disney+ came out with “driving home 2 u” a week before the most recent Grammys. While the project was made to showcase Rodrigo and the album, it was also released as part of a campaign to possibly convince voters to support her then or in the future. Also, it attempted to preserve Rodrigo’s image through its carefully constructed lens and environment. The emphasis on visuals served more than one purpose.
What Not to Expect
While the film is a documentary, it is not like many musician-focused projects that have been released in the past couple of years, such as Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana” and Billie Eilish’s “The World’s a Little Blurry.” “Driving home 2 u” does not chronicle Rodrigo’s life or spend time diving into her hardships. “Sour” is a “breakup album” with most of the songs discussing the artist’s feelings surrounding her real-life split from her “High School: The Musical: The Series” costar and ex-boyfriend, Joshua Bassett. But moments where she acknowledges how her pain fueled her songwriting rarely deviate from the conversation about the art itself. An occasional comment is made about the past relationship, but no specific details are revealed.
The same can be said about Rodrigo’s handling of past drama linked to “drivers license.” When the song — the first single off of “Sour” — came out in January 2021, fans believed certain lyrics from the track referenced Bassett’s girlfriend Sabrina Carpenter, a relationship that directly followed his and Rodrigo’s. Since many of the song’s admirers felt a personal connection to “drivers license” and the singer herself, Rodrigo’s supporters harassed Carpenter and Bassett through various social media platforms for weeks. The mob’s relentless attack on the two sent Bassett to the hospital for septic shock and heart failure.
The subject of the documentary briefly addressed the tension and controversy, but, like in the song itself, did not name either of them. She expressed her dissatisfaction with the online harassment, but she chose to not explore how she could have contributed to the actions of her fans. This decision is one that could be divisive among viewers. Some might appreciate the prioritization of the actual music, and some could be frustrated with the lack of clear answers from Rodrigo for over a year and a half. It will depend on the person, but do not expect gossip or rumors to be confirmed in this project.
Is the Film Worth Watching?
Overall, “driving home 2 u” is a nice, stress-free way to spend around an hour and a half of your day. The film offers a lot of information about Rodrigo’s background. Although it dives into songwriting and includes sweeping visuals and performances, the documentary does not go deeper into the personal aspects of the album like it could have. It would have been great to learn even more through the interviews with Rodrigo and the recordings. Nigro himself could have played a bigger part in the film than he did. Despite these criticisms, “driving home 2 u” is a relaxing film to watch, even if it’s in the background as you work. If you are a devoted follower of Rodrigo, feel connected to “Sour” or were not able to buy tickets for her tour, then this film is exactly for you.