Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—The Motel Life (2012) ***½

R, 85 min.
Directors: Alan Polsky, Gabriel Polsky
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Willy Vlautin (novel)
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Joshua Leonard, Noah Harpster, Kris Kristofferson

Saturday is always the most surreal day of Ebertfest. I don’t know why. I wonder if they try to program the films in a way to produce an eerie sense of being adrift. It’s not a criticism. It just always seems that Saturday is the “lost” day of the festival, with characters trying to find their way through the morass of life. Saturday is the longest day of films and the atmosphere created by them makes it a sort of wonderful cinematic experience.

This year’s Saturday schedule included the films “Wild Tales”, “Ida”, “The Motel Life” and  “99 Homes”. I watched two of these this year and both have a distinct feel of despair about them. The first was “Ida”, with its black and white cinematography and somber subject matter; it certainly played into that atmosphere I described. “The Motel Life” is another strong fit for the Saturday feel.

The movie is about two brothers. One accidentally hits someone with his car one night and kills him. He runs. The two brothers are very close and have lived out of motels since they were too young to be on their own because their mother died and their father had never been a part of their lives. One brother is an artist and lost his leg in an accident just six months after their mother’s death. The other tells fantasy stories that involve their amazing adventures, which often involve their father as well.

Having always lived out of motels, it’s no surprise these guys aren’t well off financially. They must go on the run and they do a good job making the best of their situation. This film may mark the first time I’ve ever seen the Big Gamble work out for a lead character whose life is otherwise difficult. That’s an interesting change of formula.

The story is purely about their relationship. The morality of what has happened is a moot point. This is their life and they survive it. What happened to the hit and run victim is unfortunate, and they do what they can to make it as right as they can. However, the question of justice doesn’t much enter into it. It happened. Of course, the brother who did it feels terrible and he does try something drastic that I think has more to do with how his actions have frequently affected his brother as much as it is about the guilt he feels for killing someone. Ironically, he seems to be the more positive of the two.

The performances by Emile Hirsch as the storyteller and care giving brother and Stephen Dorff as the artist and unfortunate cause of the events are the key to the film’s success. For anyone wondering about Dorff’s skill as an actor, look no further than his amazing turn as an actor who discovers he really isn’t anybody in Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”. Emile Hirsch is possibly one of the most underrated actors out there. He’s wonderful in just about everything he does. Here the two put in performances that are up there with their best. They make surprisingly convincing brothers. Theirs is a journey of love.

I’m sad to once again miss the Roger Ebert Film Festival. I’m very disappoint I was able to keep up with so few of this year’s entries. I do have the ones I missed to look forward to throughout the coming year, however. The surreal sadness of the festival’s Saturday atmosphere seems appropriate considering how different these film experiences would be in person. I will be back someday. 

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