“No matter what, I want you two to stay together.”
It was a dying mother’s wish. The Flanagan brothers lost their mother to cancer when they were just teens, and were forced to grow up fast and live a life on the run. Not wanting to risk separation, they ran away to Reno and grew up in a motel. The brothers were dealt their cards, and soon discovered that life had given them a bad hand. When Jerry Lee Flanagan (Stephen Dorff) is involved in a hit and run accident, he and his brother, Frank (Emile Hirsch) flee, pursued by the authorities for the first time, despite their drifter upbringing.
They’re not bad guys. In fact, they’re a little too kind for their own good. The brothers have very kind hearts, but are forced to live their lives as wanderers, running from nothing, and eventually becoming fugitives, sealing their drifter status and being forced to remain loners.
Jerry Lee and his brother share a close bond as a result of their tough luck growing up; all they’ve ever had was each other. They care deeply about one another, taking risks to help each other out despite the looming and very possible consequences that they could bring upon themselves. At one point Jerry Lee, who is in the hospital after a shooting accident, looks at his brother and weakly whispers, “You should drink more milk, Frank.”
Frank is a storyteller, and quite a gifted one. He tells stories that are the opposite of he and Jerry Lee’s experiences, embellishing them with grand details and making himself and his brother heroes. He’s a dreamer with a bright imagination and a life of tough luck. The boys never fully grew up, and their boyhood shines through when they reminisce together. The stories are therapeutic for the two of them, as well as for Frank’s on-and-off girlfriend, Annie (Dakota Fanning), and manage to expose Frank’s subconscious feelings despite the walls he builds up in an effort to protect himself from even the people he cares about. Frank is a gentle soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly and, though he is pushed into many desperate situations, they often end up hurting only him.
The Motel Life is visually satisfying, switching between beautiful shots of the small towns Frank and Jerry Lee make their way though and the animations of Jerry Lee’s drawings that come to life through Frank’s vivid stories. The film, set in what appears to be late 80s-early 90s Nevada, is full of enchanting shots of the charming but haunting small towns the boys have unofficially made their territory.
The emotional highs and lows that the brothers experience and the way that they balance each other out is incredible. It is not clear who’s older because both have had to take on the role of “big brother” at some point, but it becomes apparent that, had it not been for each other, they would somehow be worse off. Tragedy occurs, but is balanced out by the realization that life is never completely hopeless, and that when things are bad, a little bit of good goes a long way.
The Motel Life is now available on VOD from FilmBuff.