Like Jared Hess before him, director Michael Kang is the new kid on the block who wants to play inside Wes Anderson’s clubhouse. This is why The Motel‘s images are presented as slices of eccentric Americana, but the film’s textures are more drab than royal, the flow more inert than dynamite—which is how Kang uniquely personalizes what, on first glance, appears to be a simple put-on. The look and pace of the film is apt for its setting, a place where people don’t stay for very long and a young boy, Ernest (Jeffrey Chyau), seems to hunger for a world of a different tempo. There’s some kind of insult to take from the way some descriptions of the film have tried to downplay its ethnic essence. Race is very much a part of this film, complicating Ernest’s crawlspace between youth and maturity. He’s a geek, but he’s also not white, and Kang locates the pain and joy of growing up in America when you’re a minority in the funny, sometimes touching dialogue and a series of loaded exchanges between characters, like the scene where the object of Ernest’s affection, Christine (Samantha Futerman), seems to admit to her racial preference when she macks on a white skater boy. “You walk like you speak English,” says Ernest’s friend Sam (Sung Kang), a South Korean gigolo who brings prostitutes to the motel the boy’s mother operates with an iron-fist—or, rather, a baseball bat. Coming from anyone else this line might have been offensive, but from Sam’s lips to Ernest’s soul, it’s a sign of I-got-your-back camaraderie. Ernest’s mother may be conceived unimaginatively, but the film’s final standstill between them is gripping, a summation of Kang’s interest in getting to the very roots of living like an outsider in a white world and how this load effects a boy’s growing pains.
- Palm Pictures
- 76 min
- Michael Kang
- Michael Kang
- Jeffrey Chyau, Sung Kang, Jade Wu, Samantha Futerman, Stephen Chen, Alexis Chang, Conor J. White, Jackson Budinger, Clint Jordan
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: