Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Fairuza Balk, Ione Skye, Brooke Adams, Robert Knepper, James Brolin
Director: Allison Anders
Audio: English 2.0
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia
Features: Trailers
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2003 

"What do you do with yourself if you can't imagine the future the way you want it to be?"

Film ***

Hollywood has not always been inflicted with an insatiable blockbuster mentality.  As recently as the 1970's, the typical Hollywood movie addressed stories about common people, folks simply going about the unexciting and monotonous humdrum of making it through one day at a time.  Gas Food Lodging (1992) is a throwback to this more personal style of cinema.  It is a splice-of-life look at the struggles and hardships faced by a small town American family.  Buoyed by some fine performances, this film easily illustrates that Hollywood needn't always resort to secret agents or super-heroes to find interesting characters and engaging stories.

Gas Food Lodging centers around the lives of Nora (Brooke Adams) and her two teenaged daughters Trudi (Ione Skye) and Shade (Fairuza Balk).  Nora works as a truck stop diner waitress in a small New Mexico desert town.  Home is a small unit at the local trailer park, and life is hardly glamorous, particularly given the long absence of a deadbeat father.  Nora, as a single parent with limited options in this small town, must attend as best she can to the usual parental preoccupation of raising two teens.  Life is lonesome and repetitious for Nora, who can sense the flower of youth slowly passing her by.

Trudi is the older daughter, a difficult young woman on the cusp of adulthood and unhappy with the stifling dead-end that her hometown represents to her.  She has a regular procession of bad dates and heartbreaks with perennial lowlifes.  These relationships naturally go nowhere and only further reinforce her reputation as white trash.  Trudi's strained relationship with her own mother is hardly any better and only exacerbate her growing frustration with the futureless prospect of New Mexican life.  An impulsive girl, Trudi desperately seeks to escape from her hometown, and her latest beau, a seemingly kind outsider residing temporarily in the area, may finally represent the opportunity for love and a new life that Trudi has long sought.

In contrast, the younger Shade possesses a rosy optimism not yet completely tainted by her older sister's cynicism.  Shade is also an avid film buff and a loyal patron of the town's regularly-empty movie theater, where she happily retreats into the emotional refuge of Mexican romantic dramas.  Shade's subsequent outlook upon life is shaped by the dreams and romantic fantasies she witnesses on the big screen.  Not too surprisingly, one of Shade's aspirations is to re-unite her long-lost father with her mother.  If that cannot be accomplished, than perhaps she might still discover a worthy new suitor for her mother, someone to ease her mother's loneliness and also to re-establish a sense of unity and bond within the family.

Gas Food Lodging splits its time equally among these three women.  While the interactions between mother and daughters are frequently more painful than pleasant, they do depict a general realism uncommon in Hollywood films today.  Shade is the film's most intriguing character, and she becomes the film's focus during its latter half.  She is in a sense the keystone that holds her family together.  Even if her youth denies her real comprehension of complex relationship difficulties between Nora and Trudi (or even the girls' estranged father), at least Shade still clings to an unfettered faith in human nature not yet dispelled by life's eventual disappointments.  As Shade, Fairuza Balk provides the finest performance of her career, while Ione Skye slips comfortably into her familiar role as a libidinous young woman (with a few surprising nuances to her character that are revealed as the film proceeds).

Gas Food Lodging is much like real life - there are no fairy tale beginnings or happily-ever-afters, and not every problem is resolved by the film's conclusion.  The characters essentially end up in much the same situation as they were at the start of the film, if perhaps a bit wiser or more introspective for their experiences.  Splice-of-life films are like that.  Answers, if any, are usually subtle, and the perfect solution seldom presents itself. 

Don't be fooled by the deceptive DVD cover art (to be fair, it merely reprises the film's original publicity art).  Gas Food Lodging is not a sex romp or a provocative coming-of-age film about carnal desires.  It is a solid family drama with equal moments of bleak poignancy and light humor.  Like other fine family dramas such as You Can Count on Me or Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Gas Food Lodging addresses the problems of single parenthood, with stark depictions of relationship crises and an honest portrayal of life in the American heartland, far from the big cities.

Video ***

Gas Food Lodging is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format.  The picture quality has a somewhat grainy appearance.  Colors are at times overly-saturated (a cave sequence, for instance) and at other times somewhat bleached (probably intentional, to impress upon viewers the draining heat of the desert).  There are a few instances of dust or debris with mild graininess, but otherwise the transfer is acceptable.

Audio **

Audio is non-spectacular but again acceptable for this dialogue-driven independent film.  Most of the sound will come from the center speaker.

Features *

The only extras are trailers for Big Girls Don't Cry, The Craft, Cruel Intentions, and The Last Picture Show.


Gas Food Lodging is a personal film made for viewers with a passion for thoughtful stories about family drama.

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