‘Gas Food Lodging’: The ‘Ladybird’ of the 1990s

Adapted from the novel ‘Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt’ by Richard Peck and directed by Allison Anders, Gas Food Lodging is about a single mother and her two daughters, searching for meaning in life and their place in the world in the barren desert of New Mexico (JRL: 4 / 5).

Review by FF2 Associate Julia Lasker

Gas Food Lodging is set in the quiet, empty, and mostly beige desert-land of New Mexico: a place in which our protagonists, “Nora” (Brooke Adams) and her two headstrong, spunky daughters, “Trudi” (Ione Skye)  and “Shade” (Fairuza Balk), don’t quite blend in. The three live together in a trailer, where their father’s absence constantly looms in the background. Trudi and Shade are left searching for ways to fill this void in other ways: Trudi through teenage rebellion and Shade through her fantasies. 

Shade often frequents a local movie theater, where she obsessively watches dramatic black-and-white Elvio Rivero romance films. She believes that if she can just find an “Elvio Rivero” for her mother, thus completing their family once again, all of their problems will be solved. She searches for the right man and becomes frustrated when it doesn’t work. Meanwhile, Trudi meets a traveling geologist and falls in love. When she becomes pregnant, Nora is wary that Trudi will end up just like her: a struggling single mother. Tensions rise between the three women, each of them lost in their own idea of how the world should be.

I always appreciate a filmmaker who finds drama in the mundane. Nora, Trudi, and Shade live a small, ordinary life, yet the action that plays out in the film feels monumental. We find all three characters at a turning point in life, and the uncertainty of what will become of each of them is riveting. The urgency to repair their broken family and find happiness again is palpable, and therefore every moment of relief – be it in a glowing underground cave, or at the most dramatic moment of an Elvio Rivero film – is magical, almost fantastical, as I can imagine it would be to them. The fact that they are so clearly suffering from the loss of their father also heightens the drama of each interaction they have with men. Each of them has a romance in the film, and though all three are unique and interesting in their own way, they are all underscored by this same sense of urgency.  

Brooke Adams, Ione Skye, and Fairuza Balk have fantastic chemistry as a mother and her daughters. They each deliver powerhouse performances that compliment each other well. The film finds them at a tense moment in their relationship, and I could feel my heart break when they fought because of the sheer reality of it. Yet, at the same time, they are bonded by their struggles, and it’s clear how much they love and care about one another despite it all. I think their relationship is one that many mothers and daughters might relate to, similar to the connection many found to the mother and daughter relationship in Ladybird

Director Allison Anders was the child of a single mother and then a single mother herself, so there is so much truth in this story. And it feels true. Though she doesn’t sugar-coat the harsh reality of single-motherhood, and many moments are quite tough, she also doesn’t shy away from the moments of wonder and joy that they each find in their everyday life. In a way, this is simply what life is, and Gas Food Lodging does a wonderful job of portraying it. I think, because of this, Gas Food Lodging is a film with which many people, single mothers and otherwise, will resonate deeply.

© Julia Lasker (11/10/2020) – FF2 Media

Photos: Credit to Dean Lent

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