“Route of Acceptance” is choose-your-own-adventure

Heather Tobin’s upcoming film Route of Acceptance follows the choices of teenager Ryan Stark (Emily Alatalo), an overly ambitious girl who’s out to her family, eager to change the world with her writing, and doesn’t just want to get into college—but needs to make sure whatever she chooses is the right choice. How will she be able to know what the future holds for her between three different schools and therefore three different possible lives? As the process of elimination consumes her, Ryan’s brother Cory (Ry Barrett) has just announced his engagement to a girlfriend the family hasn’t met yet. Ryan is happy for her brother, but she doesn’t see how he’s allegedly “met his soulmate” with so many people in the world. He grins and tells her, “When you meet that person, you’ll know it.”

Flash to Ryan in the future—times three. Her purple strands of hair are now bright crimson red. She lives in a million dollar home with her wife, an older woman and apparent artist. At the surface, she has her life in order and she’s doing what she wanted to do: write. But something’s happened between these lovers and we can’t be sure of what, yet. There’s a level of resentment wide enough to stretch across the dinner table they sit at opposite ends of. Is this how a partnership should be? Can they get through it? And if so, is there enough forgiveness to go around?

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In an alternative flash into the future, Ryan is at a Halloween party, having chosen the school that would let her be close to home and close to her friends. Here, there’s an apparent gay scene where she’s constantly mingling with other lezzies. At this party, she meets a girl who calls herself Emily (Yvonne Gauthier). The two instantly hit it off, even though, right out of the gate, Ryan discovers a really screwed up secret. Emily is pretending to be someone she isn’t, but who is Emily? And is this someone that Ryan wants to have in her life? If so, it will have a strange affect on a number of people, but as you’ll soon realize, Emily will have a strange affect on Ryan’s life, regardless of what she chooses.

In the third realm of decision-making, Ryan is up north at school, living with a party-girl who drags her to a zombie-themed dorm party, and Ryan decides it’s time to settle the score and find out once and for all if she can rule out guys and call herself a true lez. She befriends a dude named Dave who seems eager to get to know Ryan, but when she tries to get sexy with him, he asks, “Aren’t you a lesbian?” After Ryan loses her virginity to him, and simultaneously decides she is in fact a lesbian, she is put to a new test, with a whole new set of emotions she must face. And where her other futures’ path-forks only seem profoundly dramatic and life altering, this one will be, perhaps the most important.

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In a way, the film reflects that familiar, aching question mark we are often searching for when we reach a limbo in our lives. Where do I go now? What if this doesn’t happen the way I want or expect it to? What if I choose this, and the other choice meant all the success, happiness and promise? I can see how a film like this might confuse some people, because it doesn’t necessarily follow a traditional, chronological plot where we see a lesbian come out, begin a relationship, get her heart trampled on, and then realize a huge lesson in the end. In many ways, all of that happens—and then some. But, Route of Acceptance is also just a big opus to owning your decisions and following your intuition, and though you might balk at the at-times sentimental dialogue, it’s kind of perfect for a Sunday afternoon watch. Like Ryan discovers, sometimes the best-laid plans often go awry, and then, you just own the fact that there are no bad decisions, or regret, because everything is happening as it should.

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