THE MOTEL (Palm Pictures Series #2)
Within the contemporary independent film scene the comedy has been reduced to a monotonous formula defined by rigid framing, insecure characters, awkward dialogue, and often, a predilection towards child sexuality. It ostensibly started with Jim (MYSTERY TRIAN) Jarmusch followed closely by his cinematographer/protégée Tom (THE REAL BLONDE) DiCillo and has morphed slightly through the films of Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz. THE MOTEL manages to cover all the bases of said formula (even down to the ubiquitous pastel ad campaign) without adding anything new to the mix. It amounts to little more than a piece of flaccid, unfunny Sundance fodder.
The story hinges on the burgeoning sexuality of Ernest, a shy teen boy living in a motel ran by his distant and strict mother. Ernest is about as uninteresting as a protagonist can be, so bland in fact that you kind of route for his bully (a trashy teenager staying at the motel). The bullying is only one of Ernie’s problems though; he wrote a story his mother won’t read, falls in love with his best friend, and starts hanging out with a promiscuous alcoholic loser staying at the motel. The “alcoholic” character functions as Ernest’s alter-ego prodding him to overcome his shyness and try new things. Even as the story’s resident bad-boy character he somehow manages to be as banal as our pathetic lead. Many of the pitfalls boil down to poor scripting. Take for example the predictability of every major plot point: 1) We know his mother’s eventually going to read the story and be touched by it (gag!). 2) Ernest will screw up his relationship with his best friend due to his new found crush (of course). 3) And he’ll discover that his alcoholic alter ego is nothing more than a big loser that complicates his life (big surprise).
To be fair, some of the writing sucks by design. For instance, Ernest’s dialog rings very true for a lame 13-year-old. Unfortunately, the musings of a lame 13-year-old aren’t all that interesting or fulfilling. All things considered the cast does a serviceable job, they just weren’t given fleshed out characters or decent lines. A great actor can sell a bad line. Alec Baldwin and Denzel Washington excel in this area. Director Michael Kang’s young cast isn’t quite in their league yet, causing us to cringe at the insipid dialogue they’re forced to deliver. The cringe inducing dialogue peaks with the scene in which Ernest and his alcoholic buddy scream up to god that they “just want to be happy!” I just wanted them to stop. The derivative look of the film is handled competently, leaving us to wonder what Kang could accomplish if he did more than just parade out the current indie/comedy tropes.
The one thing the film has going for it is a strong crisp ending consisting of a single tear streaking down Ernest’s chubby face. It tells us everything we need to know. Another positive - at 76 minutes it is mercifully short.