“A finely nuanced portrait of two gay men in a small Texas town slowly finding their way toward each other, “Pit Stop” is a low-key but ultimately deeply satisfying third feature from helmer/co-scenarist Yen Tan (“Ciao”). Lacking any kind of flash in star power, conception or execution, this astute drama could nonetheless follow the path of something like Andrew Haigh’s Britpic “Weekend” in breaking out of the gay fest/niche home-format ghetto to score theatrical release on merit alone.
While they don’t actually meet until the film’s final scenes, the primary protags are in roughly similar circumstances, awkwardly still cohabiting with domestic partners they’ve otherwise broken up with. It takes a while for Tan and David Lowery’s script to fill in the exposition. Construction contractor Gabe (Bill Heck) and hardware-store clerk Shannon (Amy Seimetz) are no longer married, but have opted to stay under one roof for the sake of their 6-year-old daughter (Bailey Bass).
Meanwhile, forklift operator Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) still shares his apartment with younger, directionless Luis (Alfredo Maduro), who ended their relationship out of a need to escape the podunk town. But to Ernesto’s annoyance, he’s really taking his time moving out.
Living in separate bedrooms, all concerned ache for deeper companionship. So Shannon commences a tentative romance with a nice-guy co-worker (John Merriman), despite Gabe’s unrighteous grumbling. Ernesto finally pushes Luis out the door, though neither is quite as over the other as he pretends. Still, Ernesto pays hospital visits to an older ex-lover who’s laid in a coma since a car accident.
While not so highly dramatic (let alone tragic) a narrative as “Brokeback Mountain,” this modern-day story nonetheless evinces a not-dissimilar air of mostly closeted gay semi-rural Western life, despite the availability of Internet hookups and the relative proximity of a big city (Austin).
Granting nearly as much screentime to Shannon and Luis as it does the two leads (plus one long section to Corby Sullivan as a newly arrived schoolteacher who asks Gabe out), “Pit Stop” offers fully realized characters and soft-pedals Lone Star State stereotypes. Never pulling emotional strings, the pic’s unwavering understatement pays off in a well-earned ending rich in possibility.
Perfs are first-rate, assembly modest but apt, with Curtis Glenn Heath’s folk-country score (including some original songs) hitting the perfect spare yet yearning note. The mono-monikered Hutch’s widescreen lensing is pro, but somewhat pedestrian; a little more visual personality and evocation of place would have helped.” (Dennis Harvey, Variety)
“…Pit Stop is obviously a low-budget film (some shoddy sound mixing, low tech, few locations, inconsistent acting), but Yen Tan still manages to tell a wonderful story and evoke very deep emotions from its characters and, in turn, from its audience. It is a country song we can all relate to; people in a small town struggling to find connection, belonging, living day-to-day, taking chances and starting over. Yen Tan is a filmmaker I look forward to seeing more work from.” (Erika Tai, Cinemabeach.com)
“…In kind, Tan’s greatest directorial strength is his coaxing of sublime work from these performers. As the tragic but handsome Ernesto, DeAnda balances a tricky mixture of sex appeal, brutality, and unintentionally profound sensitivity. That DeAnda’s character is gay and Hispanic places Ernesto in a category of his own . Similarly, Heck’s “Everyman” appearance helps to expand the microscopic presentations of Midwestern men in films with a decidedly metropolitan edge. One scene in particular, in which Gabe prepares for a date with a new man, putting on the same flannel button-up and white shirt he wore two days ago, considers these stereotypes with a mocking but graceful eye. Finally, as Shannon’s Home Depot-style boss and shlubby admirer Winston (John Merriman), manages to naturalize and make realistic his impression of a warm teddy bear. His is the film’s most pleasant character, filled by the most affectless performance. Pit Stop is notable not just for its sublime realism, but for its thematic (Sean Malin, mediumraretv.org)
“…achieves such power on a small scale that even the slightest progress for either of its leads packs a punch.” STEPHEN SAITO, THE MOVEABLE FEST
“It’s a movie of considered silences and deliberate pacing, superbly acted and surprising in its cumulative power.” SCOTT FOUNDAS, VILLAGE VOICE
“9 out of 10…reveals an Altmanesque finesse in developing so many characters equally.” DON SIMPSON, SMELLS LIKE SCREEN SPIRIT
“…a film of quiet dignity and grace…it comes into focus as gradually as it wins you over.” CHRIS VOGNAR, DALLAS MORNING NEWS
“Echoing Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, the movie views homoerotic yearning in a refreshingly non-sensationalistic context…” ERIC KOHN, INDIEWIRE
“…a poignantly observed look at two lonely, small-town Texas gay men and the people of significance in their lives.” PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY
“Yen Tan’s gift for long takes and his comfort with silences makes demands on the audience that films ought to make — and pays them back with a surprising happy ending.” B. RUBY RICH, FILM QUARTERLY
“…a film of formidable emotional resonance. Excels in instances of extraordinary empathy, where we find ourselves compulsively compelled to relate to these characters…” RONAN DOYLE, NEXT PROJECTION
“…possesses a mellow profundity, a creeping emotionality belied by its hushed ambiance and its simple mise-en-scene and scenarios.” KEVIN LANGSON, EDGE
”…masterfully sad and poignantly touching, with some rich moments of characterization…” PETER SIMEK, D MAGAZINE
“…could prove to be a cross-over. Yen casts a sympathetic anthropological gaze to capture the small gestures, the short but regular encounters that make life in a small town.” BÉRÉNICE REYNAUD, SENSES OF CINEMA
“…has a sincerity that creeps up on you and will linger in your mind long after the credits roll.” PETER KNEGT, INDIEWIRE
“Highly recommended. If you wished Brokeback Mountain had ended happier, here’s your movie.” JIM RIDLEY, NASHVILLE SCENE
INDIEWIRE’s Top Films and Performances of Sundance 2013 poll: Best Narrative Feature #8, Best Director #9, Best Ensemble #15
SUNDANCE CHANNEL’S Top 10 Must-See Films from SXSW 2013
INDIEWIRE’s 10 LGBT Films You Should See on this Summer’s Queer Fest Circuit