Following on from the success of coming-of-age films in the 80s with the likes of The Breakfast Club, Heathers, Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Weird Science, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink all finding a following in one way or another, you can’t help but wonder if and how these films – or this particular genre of films – would endure and find an audience over time?
Are these films just a product of their time, or have they resonated enough with audiences to remain popular and inspire fans and fellow film makers everywhere? Fortunately, it’s the latter as 1992’s Gas Food Lodging proved; and has therefore gained a release from the trusty team at Arrow.
Writer/director Alison Anders’ Gas Food Lodging follows the types of themes explored in coming-of-age type movies: struggle, the trials and tribulations of growing up, love and the lack thereof, friendships, relationships, family drama, good times, bad times and a shot of fate and good fortune. Add in the seemingly obligatory good soundtrack and there’s your recipe for success. But Anders took these familiar themes and placed them in a small town in New Mexico, adding a feeling of isolation into the mix that really made you feel for the family of single mum Nora (Brooke Adams), Trudi (Ione Skye) and Shade (Fairuza Balk). All three have themselves and each other to worry about.
Trudi and Shade couldn’t be more different. Trudi is beautiful but rebellious and selfish. Shade is caring and sensitive but also independent; escaping from the stresses of life every day by watching her favourite Spanish films in the local cinema. Then there is Nora in the middle as the struggling single mum, trying to hold the family together whilst working as a waitress in the local diner. It’s this dynamic that sizzles throughout as it really is a melting pot of loneliness, anger, fear, doubt and frustration for the family. The scenes between Nora, Trudi and Shade are what make the film. Adams, Skye and Balk put in stellar performances and drag this from what could be seen as a made-for-TV-style family drama into an engrossing tale based around the difficulties of growing up and living in a small town.
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Of course, there are other characters and factors that make Gas Food Lodging work and with someone as beautiful as Trudi around, it won’t be long until she meets someone. Enter charismatic Englishman Dank (Robert Knepper) who soon sweeps Trudi off her feet and through him we find out the dark story behind Trudi’s rebellious nature. Shade also unexpectedly meets someone in charming local Javier (Jacob Vargas) and Nora even has her own complicated relationship with local man Raymond (Chris Mulkey) despite her separation with the girls’ absent father, John (James Brolin).
Clearly the themes of finding love, losing it and unrequited love are all present . Shade making it her mission to find Nora someone is quite sweet and Gas Food Lodging isn’t as depressing as it may seem. Like a lot of coming-of-age movies, there are plenty of lighter comedic moments well placed in amongst the drama to make this a mostly enjoyable watch as opposed to a challenging one.
Gas, Food Lodging might not be mentioned alongside the likes of The Breakfast Club as a coming-of-age classic and it may well lack the all out fun feel of some of those movies but, despite similar themes, this isn’t a high school based comedy. The themes and scenes in Gas Food Lodging are based in a small town with a small town mentality and situations that will resonate with most people. It’s certainly not a perfect film, certain scenes and moments appear dated, but with a strong, relatable and well written story along with solid performances, it is well worth stopping by for.
Extras for this release include a brand new in-depth interview with Alison Anders and screenwriter Josh Olsen; a 1995 documentary entitled Cinefile: Reel Women; and a look at the challenges faced by female film makers in the industry featuring the likes of Kathryn Bigelow and Gale Anne Hurd as well as Alison Anders herself. There’s also an image gallery along with a reversible sleeve with new and original artwork by Matthew Griffin. First pressings include a collectors booklet with new writing on the film. It would have been nice to get a few cast interviews in here, old or new, but overall, still an essential for fans of the film.
This Director approved restoration of Gas Food Lodging releases on Blu-Ray from Arrow Academy today, 12 November.