In a small town in New Mexico, a single mom (Brooke Adams, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers) struggles to raise her two teen daughters (Ione Skye, Say Anything, and Fairuza Balk, American History X).
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I won’t be alone. Not like you!”
Emotionally-charged kitchen-sink-drama told from a female perspective. These types of movies tend to cover similar ground, so the key is to try to make it look fresh and interesting. Based on the well-received 1972 novel Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt by Richard Peck, Gas Food Lodging manages to set itself apart from similar-themed movies through a masterful handling of real-life day-to-day problems.
Ione Skye is the rebellious older daughter, and Fairuza Balk plays Skye’s quirky little sister. They are both excellent. The two teenagers face a lot of challenges — growing pains, self-esteem issues, etc. — and there are times when it’s difficult to see the girls suffer. But there is something so inspiring about the girls’ determination to survive it all.
Brooke Adams steals the show as Skye and Balk’s single-mother stuck in a dead-end job. Adams is the backbone of the film, and single-handedly makes the movie more realistic — you can clearly see a lifetime of disappointments in her tired, dispirited eyes. I’ve always been a huge fan of the actress, and I wasn’t all that surprised to see her deliver a superb performance — it’s probably Adams’s best film work to date.
I also loved James Brolin’s (The Amityville Horror) performance — he plays the girls’ well-intentioned, but kinda useless dad. It’s a small role, but he is wonderful. Frankly, I never thought much of him as an actor, but I think I will be eating crow tonight — Brolin is brilliantly understated ala Ben Johnson or Sam Shepard.
In addition to great acting, Gas Food Lodging offers honesty in spades. There aren’t any last-minute solutions to big problems. Like life itself, many things are left unresolved and characters lick their wounds and try to move on. Furthermore, the atmosphere of a rundown small town is vividly captured by cinematographer Dean Lent.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Sensitively written and directed by Allison Anders (Grace of My Heart), Gas Food Lodging is a little indie gem. The film addresses many issues with heart and intelligence. It’s poignant without being maudlin. It’s also a brave movie — it’s an uncompromising slice of American life. A movie you should watch if you liked A Taste of Honey (1961) and/or Georgy Girl (1966). Color, 96 minutes, Rated PG.