‘The Motel Life’ Movie Review – Real America
People like to throw out the phrase “first world problem” half as a joke, half as an acknowledgement that problems in the United States (and other first world countries) pale in comparison to other places around the world. While using this as a lens for talking about the problems the characters in The Motel Life are going through might be a little risky, I think the movie does a great job depicting some of the crappy circumstances people are sometimes put in (regardless of location). It also shows how people try to make sense of their problems and deal with life in a subdued, not-over-the-top, thriller.
The Motel Life isn’t technically a true story, but it sure feels like it. Much to the credit of Alan and Gabriel Polsky, it feels a lot like it could’ve happened a decade or so ago. The movie is about two brothers, Frank (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee (Stepehn Dorff), basically living with the bad hand their dealt in life. When their mother dies at a young age, the two brothers had nowhere to go, leaving them to essentially become nomads. To make matters worse, Jerry Lee gets in an unfortunate accident and loses part of his leg. In the present day, it becomes about their reaction to yet another tragic circumstance after Jerry Lee accident hits and kills an adolescent and decides to run away with his brother.
Among many things, The Motel Life is a story about brotherhood and family bonds. Given their circumstances, even before the unfortunate hit-and-run, it would be easy for them to give up. The Polskys, with the help of Willy Vlautin’s source material and the screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, paint a grave picture of their life. From their unemployment to the constant drinking, the guys definitely aren’t model citizens or someone you’d ever aspire to grow up to be.
But that’s life, right? You can’t fault the brothers for what has happened to them, even if they are making terrible decisions. Drinking themselves silly is one thing, but covering up a boy’s death is in a whole other ballpark. Still, you can’t help but feel bad for their impossible circumstances.
If this sounds a bit too dreary and depressing, it’s because it is. Have no worries, though, because the movie does pull it out of the fire (or the freezing cold perhaps) with a little bit of redemption. “Redemption” may not be the best word, but there is definitely character growth going on that makes the movie more than just a depress-fest.
As for the filmmaking process, The Motel Life is unique in its ability to create some parallel stories within the narrative. Part of the bond between the brothers involves Frank’s imagination and the stories he tells his brother. In the movie, they intermix these scenes through animation, but it serves more of a purpose than just to look cool. Instead, it’s done to dig even deeper into the story through Frank’s imagination.
Alan and Gabriel Polsky’s The Motel Life is not a feel-good story, but it’s not trying to be. Instead, it pans away from everyday America – the type of society where everyone is happy and has no problems – and instead shows us some of the real issues. It isn’t a completely universal movie, but it does explore this idea of overcoming adversity without being super preachy or Hollywood-y. By the end, the movie captures it all through the thematic lens of brotherhood and reminds us why our lives (probably) aren’t that bad.
The Motel Life is available in limited theaters (check the “Screenings” tab on their official site for more information) or on Video On Demand services.
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