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Gasoline Rainbow Review: Road (Trip) to Nowhere

Some teenagers stand on the roof of a van at night in the film Gasoline Rainbow

Gasoline Rainbow is a Gen Z road trip movie that blends fiction and non-fiction – but is hampered by a story that leaves you wanting more.

Directors: The Ross Brothers
Genre: Road Trip, Coming of age
Run Time: 108′
Release Date: May 31, 2024
Where to watch: MUBI

There’s a party at the end of the world, and five friends from Oregon are determined to find it. That is the gist of Gasoline Rainbow, the new film from indie director brothers Bill and Turner Ross. The pair have always been good at finding ingenious concepts as documentarians and makers of a reality-blurring hybrid form of fiction and non-fiction.

Take their previous project Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, a masterpiece supposedly about the last day of a Las Vegas dive bar. In actuality, the bar was in New Orleans, and the regulars were non-professional actors cast by the Ross Brothers. They adopt the same mix of documentary and narrative whilst following the time-honoured American film traditions of the road trip movie and the coming-of-age drama.

In the small town of Wiley, Oregon, our five teenagers leave in the dead of night in an old van. They are Nathaly, Makai, Tony, Nichole and Micah (the students are all playing versions of themselves here), who have all just graduated from high school. The five have no real plan besides driving 513 miles to the Pacific Coast. However, they are determined to shake this town and have one last big adventure before having to find jobs and do something with their lives. This adventure will involve gas station stops, desert wildernesses, hitchhikers, drug taking, stolen tyres and a stop in Portland. But what will they find when they stand on the edge of the world?

With the credits stating it was “made on the road in Oregon,” Gasoline Rainbow sees Bill and Turner Ross repeat their patented mix of documentary and narrative in a stripped-down style. The brothers (also credited as writers, cinematographers and editors) stage this almost like a documentary, complete with a roving camera and talking head interview voiceovers from the main characters. The handheld camera is bustling – even becoming trapped in a mosh pit at one point – and footage from camera phones is also used. At the same time, there is an air of improvisation to the dialogue, with characters engaging in small talk with flashes of them opening up.

Gasoline Rainbow: Trailer (Mubi)

Together, Nathaly, Makai, Tony, Nichole and Micah represent the classic aspiration of the young generation to escape their small town and find a place where they will be accepted for who they are. As their interviews suggest, they are wishing for something better. There is a sense of wanting to belong and find their identity, seen in how they talk about being themselves and connect with the fellow outsiders they meet on their long trip. There is also a fear of being viewed as a failure, of being directionless. However, these are only exposed fleetingly before the film moves on.

The film I was most reminded of was Futura, the documentary where Alice Rohrwacher, Francesco Munzi and Pietro Marcello interviewed the youth of Italy about their hopes and fears for the future. It may have been a bit too passive, yet it managed to find specific insights into its subjects. The problem with Gasoline Rainbow is that it feels aimless. Perhaps that is meant to mimic the journey itself, with the film losing interest in the destination and trying to focus on its protagonists. At the same time though, that leads to an emotional disconnect that runs through the whole film.

You also can’t help but compare this to Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. Like this film, the Ross Brothers implemented a loose style and tone, opting to showcase the various slices of life at the ‘Roaring 20s’ bar. The film meandered but it was full of pathos, emotion and musing on a gentrified Vegas. It truly felt like the end of an era, the disbanding of a family. Conversely, Gasoline Rainbow only has bursts of characterisation as we learn about some of the quintet (Micah’s parents are both dealing with addiction, whilst Nathaly’s father was deported five years ago). Otherwise, it all seems rather surface-level.

Gasoline Rainbow is ultimately a carefree film. It touches on the issues and anxieties that face modern America and Gen Z but in a non-interrogative way. Instead, it is a film about losing yourself in the moment, the close friendships we have, and what we find on the journey of life. It feels unembellished and natural, resulting from the Ross Brothers and their expertise in form-bending verité. Nevertheless, the story ends up being a road trip to nowhere, failing to insightfully expand upon the gaping uncertainty of Nathaly, Makai, Tony, Nichole and Micah’s futures. In short, Gasoline Rainbow is an interesting formal experiment that leaves you wanting more.

Gasoline Rainbow is now available to watch on MUBI.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets Film review – Loud And Clear Reviews
The experimental style used by the Ross Brothers helps Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets stand out as one of the most unique documentaries of 2020.
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