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The characters of Allison Anders's affecting "Gas Food Lodging" (1992) will never know what it's like to be at peace - they'll forever be laboring, forever be too co-dependent to ever live their respective lives completely detached from one another. Dwellers of the kind of small, American town populated by few but visited by tourists on long road trips and hungry truckers aplenty, all they know how to do is live in the moment. Day to day existence is a struggle unlike any other.
Because none of them are going to go to college and none of them are going to one day make something of themselves. They're going to be tied down to the food service industry and are perhaps going to get married and have kids out of boredom and obligation. Such aren't cynical notions - presented to us in the film is a character study so immersed in the mundanities of blue collar life that such depressive things don't much seem to be out of the ordinary.
"Gas Food Lodging" revolves around the hardships endured by single mom Nora (Brooke Adams) and her two young daughters, the older Trudi (Ione Skye) and the blossoming Shade (Fairuza Balk). Floundering in her raising of them in a trailer park in a minuscule midwestern town, Nora attempts to look for love whilst waitressing, with Trudi using promiscuity and class cutting as methods of escape and with Shade utilizing Spanish matinees as vehicles for introspection.
The film transitions between the plights of the trio like minor Altman, and maybe even like the latter's "3 Women" (1977), they sometimes appear to be a single person represented through different identities - Trudi and Shade are essentially embodiments of Nora in her younger years, with Nora standing as the woman her daughters have great potential to become in their middle-age. Not that Anders is going for intellectual convolution - it's that these characters are so well-defined that we can arguably envision who they were and what they'll become. The characterizational definition, effective and sometimes heartbreakingly truthful, makes the viewing of Nora and company's sufferings remarkably compelling.
Whether "Gas Food Lodging" is a coming-of-age film is debatable - while we definitively see Shade mature throughout the course of the movie, the conviction that Trudi and Nora are other versions of her are enough to ward off trappings of the subgenre. But I'm also fairly positive than I see the film as being more than it is. Anders in no doubt set out to craft a gritty slice-of-life, and yet I cannot quite stop myself from coming to my analytical conclusions. But watching "Gas Food Lodging" either from an escapist disposition or otherwise doesn't much dissuade it from being the riveting kitchen-sink imitating drama that it is.
Anders is compassionate toward her characters and her ensemble undoubtedly understands them. Adams, Skye, and Balk all bring a humanity to their portrayals that distinguish the family as being one everlastingly fighting to reach self-actualization, their flirtations with lash-outs and bad behaviors only effects of their trying to understand who they are. We could watch them go through the motions in the expansive limits of an epic and never lose sight of our caring for them, warts and all.
Because hope is always at the forefront of "Gas Food Lodging," it never becomes the disillusioned feature that it could be. One day we hope that Nora will find a man she really loves, get a decent education, and break out of the small world she's found herself trapped in her entire life. That Trudi, despite her being a consistent fuck-up, will learn how to overcome her self-doubts and turn into the success she probably never will be. That Shade, who we immediately decide has a shot at breaking free from her dysfunctional upbringing, will thrive in a place that isn't her pint-sized hometown. Maybe it's all wishful thinking. But we root for these people enough to keep these fragments of optimism, and that's crucial for "Gas Food Lodging's" effectuality.
As meditation on growing up poor and female, this double edged sword challenges stereotypes of class, gender and race as portrayed on film. Director Allison Anders gives us a private look into a corner of American life not usually discussed on the big screen. She tells not only her story, but the stories of all the unrepresented single women and people of color struggling to make their way in American. Life shattering circumstances occur every day in this look at female coming of age in the 1990s. Great performances all around with nuance and conflict. Anders must be held among her Sundance peers (Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen) as one of the premiere filmmakers of the American Independent Film Movement. Film schools take note, teach her stories, share her films. Studios #HireTheseWomen!
I absolutely love this movie. nothing more to say.
The Dangers of Small-Town Living
I don't actually know if it's true that teen pregnancy rates are higher in small rural towns. It's kind of a general assumption. Teen pregnancy is higher, and drinking rates are higher, and everyone just knows that to be true. What you hear a lot is that there's nothing else to do there. And indeed I've lived in a small town, and I knew a lot of people who got pregnant, drunk, or both more often than they should because that was what there was to do. There is always the possibility of experiencing the outdoors, something people of my own upbringing had to check the smog level on first. I would, however, say it's true that the social divides are stronger, simply because you don't have to go as far to cross them. There are people back home who live within a very few miles of the ocean and have still never seen it, so they certainly haven't gone as far as Beverly Hills. But in the sticks, everything is much closer.
Shade (Fairuza Balk) and Trudi (Ione Skye) are from the wrong side of the tracks in a small New Mexico town. Their mother, Nora (Brooke Adams), is a waitress. Trudi sleeps around and ditches school. And Shade goes to the Spanish-language cinema and watches the movies of Elvia Rivero (Nina Belanger). Shade subscribes to the kind of magical thinking that says that, if you just fix one thing, everything will be better. If she finds Nora a boyfriend, so she inadvertently tries to hook Nora up with Raymond (Chris Mulkey), the married loser she'd just dumped. If she finds her father (James Brolin), who turns out to be another loser with a girlfriend. If she hooks up with Darius (Donovan Leitch). Meanwhile, Trudi has fallen in love with Dank (Robert Knepper), an English rock hunter who seems ready to rescue her from her life and then disappears like all the others, leaving her pregnant. Which is pretty much what everyone expected of her anyway.
It's a little odd to see this movie cast the way it is. Yes, this was years before [i]The Craft[/i] gave Fairuza Balk the nickname "Scary Nosering Girl" in my circle of friends, and in many ways, she's closer to Dorothy from [i]Return to Oz[/i] here. But she looks more like the girl from [i]The Craft[/i], which was at any rate closer chronologically. And practically the only thing I've seen Ione Skye in was [i]Say Anything . . .[/i] as quintessential Good Girl Diane Court. Late in the movie, it's said that the sisters don't look anything alike, which is only mostly true, but they are both so ingrained in my head from other roles that I assumed Fairuza Balk would be playing the Bad Girl. However, at four years younger than Ione Skye, she was perfectly suited to play the innocent younger sister in this particular instance, and it's my fault that I had trouble with it, not hers. And it's certainly true that Trudi is not necessarily bad so much as she is desperate to be loved by someone. She's just not fussy who.
In 1992, did women still "go away somewhere" to have their babies? The implication I got was that the baby was going into a completely closed adoption, and I'm pretty sure those were rare by 1992. It's true that Trudi desperately wanted a way out of town, and having her baby away from prying eyes was certainly a decent enough excuse to do that, but I'm not sure how it would work with the family's finances. It almost felt as though they just needed her to disappear offstage for a while, and "having her baby" was as good an excuse as any other. Especially because they needed to make her hurt and disappointment as miserable as possible to contrast with Shade's optimism. I'm impressed that Trudi went the adoption route, because that's seldom shown as an option in movies, but it almost feels as though she did it because it both pissed off her mom and didn't leave her forced to actually take care of the baby. If her mom had voted adoption, she may well have had an abortion.
We have here another entry in the Misleading Poster division. It's true that both Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk are beautiful women, and it's true that they were even better looking in 1992 than they are today. (Fairuza Balk in particular had this sweetness that she had lost in just a few years, and by [i]American History X[/i], it was gone entirely.) It's true that the poster shows the small town, the warm light of New Mexico, and so forth. But I don't think Fairuza Balk ever dresses like that through the entire movie, and if she does, it's not around Ione Skye. There is a physical closeness between the women on the poster that implies an emotional closeness we never see in the movie. Oh, Shade longs for it, but Trudi doesn't want anything to do with anyone from her past. Still, it still gives you a more accurate view of the movie than just learning the title. I can't figure out what the title has to do with anything at all.
Complicated and eclectic. Why aren't we hearing more from Anders and Balk?
An impressive debut for Allison Anders, who should NOT be relegated to directing TV shows now. The films boasts a solid story with a great cast that includes Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk - two actresses who should have gone on to be fairly major movie stars.
Good film with an unexpected ending...All I can say is thank God I am not in their shoes!
Not your typical commercial movie...a simple story of a single mother
and her daughters..well told and enacted
One of the most boring, weak films I've ever seen. Life was wasted watching this.
I liked this movie but then again I always like semi-wierd movies. Faruiza Blak is a good actress but she never gets much work.