If you haven’t had more than your fill of mopey, stoned teenagers, in and out of movies, here comes the Ross Brothers’ Gasoline Rainbow, to redden your eyes and perhaps stoke your nostalgia for the moment in your life when you had no idea what to do with yourself. It’s a road movie, which means the journey’s the thing; if you’re looking for America, like Easy Rider’s hippie hoggers, look around, you’re already here. After high school, five teens climb into a van and set out from the east Oregon burg they despise to visit the Pacific. Playing themselves, they are Tony (Abuerto), Micah (Bunch), Nichole (Dukes), Nathaly (Garcia), and Makai (Garza), launching into a parent-less void, free, inebriated, and mildly unhappy, woo-hooing and crossing going-nowhere paths with other wanderers on their wobbly trip.

Bill and Turner Ross’s filmmaking strategy is a kind of sub-Herzog/Kiarostami maneuver, in which they create a fictional situation (like the Vegas bar closing in 2020’s Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets), people it with unprofessional civilians, get them high or drunk as fuck, and shoot the results as though it were a documentary. So far, it’s not a program that gives you very much to chew on — inebriated improv is, in the end, rarely a substitute for a screenplay. In the new film, the five protagonists all talk the same shit, with barely a whiff of characterization or personality. The quintet, endearingly mixed in terms of race and gender, and almost entirely devoid of any thoughts of sex, all have I-don’t-fit-in gripes about life and family, all presumably true to their lives. But it’s all scantly articulated and fairly boilerplate; it’s as if the filmmakers deliberately picked their cast by filtering out interesting stories or distinctive ideas. 

Along the way, the kids lose their van and even end up hopping a freight train, but their relationships and edge-of-adulthood musings are thin and shruggable. When one girl off-handedly says to another that she’s scared to dance “without you” at a campfire party, it’s a surprise to us, because we’ve had so little reason to think they meant anything to each other. It might be that leaning into improv when your cast is thoroughly toasted is a lesson in diminishing returns — these kids seem much more committed to the ubiquitous blunts and pipes than to each other.

The all-but-declared ambition here for the Rosses is to plumb the American fringe of the 2020s, meet the young “weirdos” and leftovers that hustle there, and scorn the commercialized, heteronormative, unpierced mainstream. Like, for real, man. But talk about well-trod territory — try and find a film about Gen Z, or any film about teenagers from the last 30 years for that matter, that doesn’t expressly focus on the self-perceived outcasts. Even more specifically, wandering/homeless teens and post-teens in the Pacific Northwest are hardly a fresh topic for indie films, from Marc Rocco’s Where the Day Takes You (1992), to the rock-solid oeuvres of Gus Van Sant and Kelly Reichardt. The Rosses seem to think their film is emblematic of the milieu, when in fact it says nothing new and barely even says that. 

Maybe if everyone weren’t so high all the time? (They also somehow manage to keep their phones charged the whole trip.) OK, what if you, unlike me, actually happened to be a mopey, stoned teenager? It’s risky to speculate, of course, but I’d guess that the ever-toking, hyper-pierced, woo-hooing Zoomers I know — and they are legion, some of them even lower-middle class from less-than-peaceful homes — would find the Ross’s excursion into their crispy America to be an unrevealing bore. Change the channel, they’d say.  


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