Arguably the most accomplished and enjoyable film so far for filmmaking brothers Bill and Turner Ross (the siblings behind Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets and Western), Gasoline Rainbow pays homage to all the road movies that ever were but is still its own quirky thing, uniquely of its time.
Five photogenic but regular-looking non-professional teens star as people much like themselves, i.e. kids just out of high school, who decide on a whim one night to drive 500 miles west toward the Pacific, away from the small podunk Oregon town they grew up in. Some of the friends they make along the way aren’t entirely nice, but our heroes bounce back, party on and peace out with the blithe insouciance only the young can get away with. As such, this jaunty work will appeal to viewers from the same demographic as well as those who love freewheeling low-budget cinema and perhaps were in their teens when Easy Rider came out.
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The name of the town where the core quintet — Tony (Tony Abuerto), Micah (Micah Bunch), Nichole (Nichole Dukes), Nathaly (Nathaly Garcia) and Makai (Makai Garza) — grew up and where the action starts is never revealed. But the filmmakers mention in the press notes that it’s near the same rolling prairie landscapes where My Own Private Idaho and Stand By Me were filmed, two touchstones very palpable in the vibe here. A chance encounter at a gas station with another girl their age who’s just passing through inspires the fab five to all get into a van owned by one of their parents and drive off to see the ocean.
The kids travel light, packing no changes of clothes and just beer and some weed, all shared communally. After they pick up another young man walking on the side of the road, they park up and follow him to a party where there are yet more drugs and a pretty young woman Makai seemingly hooks up with. Walking back to the van in the morning they find that they will have to travel even lighter as someone has stolen all their tires and vandalized the vehicle.
True to the don’t-give-a-shit attitude of teens, instead of turning back home they soldier on and end up traveling toward Portland in all manner of transportation. A pair of flamboyantly tattooed and pierced young people teach them how to hitch a ride on a freight car like modern hobos. In Portland, the meet up with older friends of friends who take them on a speed boat. Airplanes and balloon rides are not deployed, although for much of the action the kids are varying degrees of high.
As with the Ross Brothers other films, it’s obvious there’s no written dialogue for the performers to recite back, but there is more of a sense of a guiding narrative trajectory here than in some of the other films. All five kids are complete naturals on camera, and you would never guess that they just met through the making of the film and didn’t know each other for years. The way they respond to music collectively is recognizably very Gen Z, and brings to mind the itinerant ensemble at the heart of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey from a few years back, except Gasoline Rainbow is crisper and less rambling. Instead of drifting aimlessly around the Midwest, the posse here conceive of a goal — see the sea, make it to a party — and voila! Goal is achieved, roll credits and cue applause. More low-budget experimental films should have the same one-and-done brevity and clarity of intent.
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