Scott D. Pierce: Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Driving Home 2 U’ makes Utah look sort of ... backwoodsy?

If you haven’t been here, you might think all we have are two-lane roads through the dust.

(Interscope Geffen A&M) Olivia Rodrigo in "Driving Home 2 U," a music film that depicts the singer-actress' stylized road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. It starts streaming on Disney+ on Friday, March 18, 2022.

Olivia Rodrigo became a megastar while she was working here in Utah, and she pays homage to the state in her latest project … sort of.

Rodgrigo’s single “Drivers License” was one of the biggest hits of 2021. That led to more hit singles (like “Deja Vu” and “Good 4 U”) and an album (“Sour”) that not only topped the charts around the world but garnered critical acclaim and seven Grammy Award nominations.

Not bad for a teenager working on a Disney+ show in Salt Lake City.

Rodrigo is, of course, one of the stars of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” which filmed its first two seasons in Utah. It wasn’t her first role — she was one of the stars of the Disney Channel’s “Bizaardvark” from 2016 to 2019 — but “HSM:TMTS” raised her profile and provided her the platform to launch her music career.

With the release of her first single, “My entire life just, like, shifted in an instant,” she says in her new movie, “Driving Home 2 U (A Sour Film),” which starts streaming on Friday on Disney+. Viewers see a few identifiable Salt Lake City area landmarks, like Trolley Square and Bonwood Bowl. And, Rodrigo says, “Being in Salt Lake makes me think so much about the early days when I first started writing ‘Sour.’”

The early days, when the 19-year-old was just 17.

“Driving Home 2 U” is not so much a movie as it is a collection of music videos — new arrangements of the “Sour” songs. “So much of the album was written between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles,” she says. “And so I thought it would be fun to do a road trip one last time.”

What? She didn’t mostly fly back and forth from LAX to SLC? Really?

By the way, it’s “one last time” because Season Three of “HSM:TM:TS” is filming in Southern California, not in Utah. And this is not about a real road trip from Salt Lake City to L.A. That would be about 700 miles on Interstate 15, and then — depending on exactly where she was going — a few more miles on Los Angeles freeways.

(Photo courtesy Natalie Cass/Disney +) Olivia Rodrigo, Matt Cornett and Julia Lester star in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

If you’re driving from SLC to L.A., you don’t go by the Great Salt Lake, stop at a drive-in theater in Tooele or journey through Wendover and the Valley of the Gods. And, given the way “Driving Home 2 U” is being billed, you’ve got to wonder how many people who have never been to Utah are going to think all we have are two-lane roads through the dust.

Ah, well. “Driving Home 2 U” is all about being artistic, with Rodrigo performing at a gas station, under an overpass, inside a derelict jetliner, on the beach, etc. There’s lots of black-and-white and hand-held camera footage, and artsy shots as she sings her angsty songs. And never has a broken teen romance given us better songs than we got from Rodrigo in “Sour.”

“This, like, relationship was definitely, like, the heartbreak that kept on giving,” she says in the movie.

(Photo courtesy of Disney Channel/Image Group LA) Joshua Bassett and Olivia Rodrigo star in the made-in-Utah series "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series."

Was it a broken romance with her “High School Musical” co-star, Joshua Bassett? Rodrigo has never come right out and said so, but that’s what fans have speculated all along. And what she has to say between songs in “Driving Home 2 U” sounds like she’s saying it without saying it.

“I was in this situation where I had to see him — he’s with someone else. Which was, like, devastating to me,” she says. “I felt like my world was ending almost every day. Nobody understood how I was feeling or related to it. And so, I think, by writing songs about exactly how I felt, I was, like, creating a friend for me.”

That is pretty sad. And at least a little bit amusing. Rodrigo is a hugely talented singer-songwriter, but she’s also a teenager who thinks that nobody has been through what she has, no one has had their heart broken the way she did, and no one can possibly understand her.

Just like every other teenager who’s ever walked the planet.

(Interscope Geffen A&M) Olivia Rodrigo in "Driving Home 2 U."

Early in the movie, Rodrigo says, “I want to play the songs in these places that meant so much to me. And, uh, revisit them with older eyes, I guess.”

Yes — with all the perspective an 19-year-old has when looking back at who she was when she was 17.

Someday — maybe 5, 10, 15 years from now — Rodrigo is going to look back at a lot of this and laugh. And probably cringe. Who among us doesn’t look back and cringe at what we did when we were teenagers?

Rodrigo continues to express her heartbreak and angst in interviews segments between the songs. And there are plenty of clips of her in the studio making the “Sour” album.

The good news for both Rodrigo and her fans is that she’s talking about moving beyond her broken heart in her future projects. “I think that sometimes storytelling doesn’t necessarily have to come from a place of devastation,” she says. “Which is what I’m trying to tell myself for, like, the rest of my career.”

And, later, she says, “Hopefully I won’t be so sad on the next record.”

At the moment, Rodrigo is giving her fans just what they want. And she is great at what she does.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.