Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Motel Life Movie Review

Stephen Dorff and Emile Hirsch (r) in The Motel Life

Brothers in Arms

There's something wonderfully simple about Alan & Gabe Polsky's The Motel Life. Also fitting, given that the Polskys are brothers too... same as lead characters Frank & Jerry Lee Flannigan, played exquisitely by Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff. Frank & Jerry Lee are flawed, seemingly beyond repair; yet they diligently trudge on, in search of little more than a quiet existence. When tragedy strikes, one brother does all he can to protect the other. It's a rare instance of two brothers who care for each other without the usual trappings of jealousy or one-upmanship. It's also definitely worth seeing.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: Based on the popular novel by Willy Vlautin, THE MOTEL LIFE is a searing and profound examination of brotherhood set in the timeless Sierra Nevadan frontier. Frank (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee Flannigan (Stephen Dorff) work odd jobs, drink hard, and drift from motel to motel. Their only escape is through Frank's fantastic stories and Jerry Lee's rich illustrations. Everything changes when Jerry Lee is involved in a hit-and-run accident, which forces the brothers across the state to the home of Frank's old flame, Annie (Dakota Fanning.) While the two seem safe from the law, Jerry Lee's insatiability and all-consuming guilt render their future increasingly uncertain. Like an outlaw country song, this directorial debut from real-life brothers Gabe & Alan Polsky finds beauty and hope in a world of casinos, gun shops, dive bars, and in the simple people who inhabit them. The film features animation by Mike Smith.

What’s Best: Hirsch & Dorff are compelling as two brothers destined to stay together. Their mother's final words? 'No matter what, I want you two to stay together.' That's a heavy load to carry, but the pair manages to do so with a stoic determination that resonates far more than the standard-issue bonds of friendship and loyalty. All too often, we're reminded that there's always a way out... even if it means going it alone. Not for these two.

There's a love story involving Frank & Annie (Fanning) that serves as little more than a distraction (or a reminder of what's "out there" for Frank.) However, keep an eye out for a welcome break of levity involving Frank and (of all things) a 40-1 fight between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas. Kudos to the Polskys for Al (Noah Harpster) and Frank's prolonged entrance into the casino... Best scene of the movie.

What’s Not: It's hard to look past the elephant in the room (We're asked to believe that Hirsch is almost the same age as Dorff... all evidence to the contrary.) Outside of that minor adjustment, the only thing left to overcome is the film's overall feeling of depression. Before the accident, it doesn't appear that the brothers have that good a life to begin with. Almost the entire 85-minute runtime is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. Some might find that uncomfortable to watch.

Best Line: Steely-eyed Kris Kristofferson offers Frank the following advice, 'Don't make decisions, thinking you're a lowlife. Make decisions, thinking you're a great man; and don't be a G.D. pussy!' Wise and appropriate. Certainly a lot better than Jerry Lee's 'When you do find 'em (the parents of the kid he ran over and killed) Maybe we can get them some subscriptions to magazines. Most people like magazines.' Note to readers: Magazine subscriptions don't erase the loss of a loved one. Try again, Jerry Lee.

Overall: Go in with low expectations, and you're bound to walk away pleasantly surprised by this little gem. It's the quintessential independent film with familiar faces and a sobering story, with a silver lining of brotherly love.