The Motel Life has a fast-cutting yet slow-paced first act that is difficult to get immersed in; but if you give it some time, it catches its bearings and delivers.
The film begins with a great inciting incident. Frank (Emile Hirsch) discovers that his brother Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff) has been involved in a hit-and-run accident. With the cops on Jerry’s case and the guilt permeating in his mind, the two are forced to flee Reno and drive across state where they land in a town in which Frank’s ex-girlfriend (Dakota Fanning) resides. However, the first act that gets us there is decorated with fragmented, uncertain scenes and quick flashbacks to the two when they were boys that renders rather confusingly. It’s hard to really grasp what direction the film is going to go in, and at one point even seems to lose the stakes it had presented in the very beginning, but then you realize why Gabe & Alan Polsky shape the world the way they do before we get back into the story. They paint a vivid yet subtle picture of a world where everyone is up to their ears in loneliness, but Frank is the most lonely of them all.
Once the Polsky brothers hit their stride and the pieces are thrown together, you can relax and enjoy a thoroughly well-acted and heartbreaking drama about brotherhood and love. Franks stories that he tells his brother are a nice contrast to their motel-ridden lifestyle and never delve too far into territory that would keep each scene from being raw and honest. If I were to be a proper critic for a moment, one of the only other technical aspects of the film that is confusing is the generational gap between the three characters. As the flashbacks show, the brothers seem to be around the same age but are obviously at least ten years apart in real life. The same goes for the believability in the relationship between Dakota and Emile. It feels weird at moments, but the performances are the glue that keeps this first-time project together for the Polsky brothers’ directorial debut.
You can watch The Motel Life now on Netflix or in the Seed&Spark cinema for $2.99 or 250 Sparks (their internal currency).
Review by Ryan Kramer