Arrow Video: Gas Food Lodging (1992) - Reviewed

The second feature film of Peabody Award winning filmmaker Allison Anders, Gas Food Lodging, despite being based upon the young adult novel Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt by Richard Peck may well be the director’s most semi-autobiographical work to date.  Telling the simple yet direct and emotionally involving story of single mother waitress Nora (Brooke Adams) who lives in a trailer park with her two teenage daughters Trudi (Ione Skye) and Shade (Fairuza Balk) in a trailer park within the desert of New Mexico, Gas Food Lodging is simultaneously a hard hitting drama as well as gentle natured coming of age story concerning women foraging in an unforgiving world.  Life seems routine for loose bad girl Trudi and withdrawn matinee moviegoer Shade until one day Trudi falls pregnant, sending the lives of the dysfunctional family unit into a tailspin while distant father figure John (James Brolin) tries to worm his way back into their lives.

Providing a snapshot of contemporary Western American life rarely depicted in the movies as well as a platform for the then up-and-coming writer-director to channel her own life experiences growing up as a troubled teen turned single mother trying to find love and happiness in a world of abandonment, dust and vast, barren badlands, the long awaited blu-ray debut of Allison Anders’ seminal indie drama finally makes its premiere thanks to the efforts of Arrow Video and their eclectic Academy line.  Seen now, the film has lost none of its tender, quiet charm and its perceptiveness about how geography and the absence of a stable father figure can derail the lives of the family he left behind.

What stands out immediately are the performances which are as rich and borne of real blood, sweat and tears as anything in say, Bob Rafelson’s classic tale of disillusionment Five Easy Pieces.  Take for instance young Fairuza Balk who after starring in children’s fare such as Return to Oz and The Worst Witch stars in a role that proved to be as close to the actress’ own adolescence as it is to the director’s.  Considered by Balk to be her personal favorite film she’s worked on to date, she exudes a wide range of emotion which like Allison Anders seems to come from a very real place grounded in their mutual upbringings.  Providing voiceover narration despite not being the primary focus of the film, Balk’s raspy, chirpy voice casts a sweeping spell over the images that harken back to the haunting voiceover narration provided by Linda Manz for Terrence Malick’s epochal Days of Heaven.

While Gas Food Lodging isn’t one to reinvent the wheel, as it stands it’s a sweet natured and at times genuinely moving little number spoken of the same breath as Kelly Reichardt.  It opened my eyes to a subsection of small town American life rarely glimpsed in the movies and the chemistry between all the actors is infectious.  Moreover Gas Food Lodging remains a character driven Southern fried coming of age drama about surviving as a family unit in the furthest outskirts of the New Mexican landscape.  Its quiet charm will most likely grow on you.

- Andrew Kotwicki