Judge Michael Nazarewycz needs to make a...oh never mind.
Two men. A small town. A love that isn't quite out of reach.
Of all of the trophies that get handed out this time of year—and there are far too many—my favorite is given at the Independent Spirit Awards. The category is the John Cassavetes Award, and only films made for a budget of under $500,000 are eligible. Even though half-a-million dollars is still real money, it's still considerably cheaper than even "small" films (2013's The Place Beyond the Pines cost $15M to make). And when compared to money spent on summer blockbusters, putting together a feature-length film for 1/550th the cost of 2013's The Lone Ranger is quite a feat. A greater feat still is making a good one for that money. Pit Stop is a good one for that money.
Facts of the Case
In a small town in modern-day Texas, the paths of two gay men's lives are wandering towards intersection.
Gabe (Bill Heck, Nonames) is recovering from a failed affair with a married man. A contractor by day, Gabe spends his nights at home where he still lives with his ex-wife so that he can be a constant presence in their daughter's life. Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda, Viva), who works in a lumber yard, is in a similar situation. His live-in is not an ex-spouse but an ex-lover that he can't bring himself to kick out. Plus, his lover before that is in a coma and Ernesto spends his time sitting by his side, reading aloud to him.
Gabe and Ernesto—not alone and yet lonely—work hard and struggle to find love in their lives, and it's only through meeting each other that they may find mutual happiness.
The first thing that becomes apparent is that it has no real narrative. While it is a story by literal definition, the film is more an exercise in observation, with the subject being the aftermath of emotional tragedies. With the exception of how Ernesto manages his ex-love who is living with him, those tragedies are never shown, and that is for the better. This is a film about how these men cope with what happened to them, not what actually happened to them. It's an incredibly genuine experience.
The other part I like about the story is that it's a tale of destiny but not in the usual sense. It's no secret that the men make a connection, but their path to each other never feels contrived as it isn't a same-sex version of Sleepless In Seattle. The whole point isn't how they meet, it's THAT they meet. It's as if the ending was written first and the story was built backwards form there and then played from the beginning.
Also refreshing? The approach of being observational allows for the absence of the gay-specific melodrama you might find in a stereotypical tale about two gay men in a small town in Texas. Because Pit Stop treats viewers like they have brains, sexual politics or regional stereotypes are never on display they way they might be in other films. Oh, you know those things happen because you know they happen, but the film never feels the need to tell you what you already know. That's not to say the film doesn't have with gay-specific issues—it has. It's to say the story does another thing right by not doing something wrong.
There are solid supporting actors and actresses throughout the film, but stars Heck and DeAnda carry it with excellent performances, led by a strong bench behind the camera.
Once again, Wolfe Video proves it knows what it's doing from a technical perspective. Like sister Wolfe release Margarita, Pit Stop is a film with excellent cinematography, here courtesy of HutcH (The Romance of Loneliness). HutcH makes excellent use of low-lit situations, and at times has entire areas within a scene cast in darkness, giving it almost a stage play feel. (There's a great-looking scene very early where Gabe's 6-year-old daughter leaves a finely lit kitchen table in the foreground to put her dinner plate in the sink, and the child is nearly swallowed whole by the shadowy background.) The video transfer performs very well in these and other dark conditions in the film. The Dolby 5.1 sounds perfectly fine, with little competition between or among sounds.
The extras consist of two commentary tracks. One track is with with Director Yen Tan and stars Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda. They discuss topics ranging from on-set memories to filmmaking tips and tricks. The other track is again with Tan, but accompanied this time by Producer Kelly Williams (Pictures of Superheroes), Cinematographer HutcH, and Editor Don Swaynos (The Horrible Life of Dr. Ghoul). Their conversation is a little more inside baseball and a little more technical.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A little melodrama would not have been a bad thing. I made a note about midway through Pit Stop that said the film contains "…a lot of those great quiet moments that are normal pauses in any other film." So if the occasional quiet moment helps any other film, then surely an occasional non-quiet moment could give this one a boost.
Without the many luxuries that larger films enjoy, small-budget films live and die on strong storytelling and fundamental filmmaking. Pit Stop is very much alive.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
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