Directed by Yen Tan
Recovering from an ill-fated affair with a married man, Gabe finds solace in the relationship he maintains with his ex-wife and daughter. On the other side of town, Ernesto evades life at home with his current live-in ex-boyfriend by spending much of his spare time in the hospital with an ailing past love. Impervious to the monotony of their blue-collar world, they maintain an unwavering yearning for romance. The emotional isolation the two men have grown accustomed to is captured in a subtle, optimistic, poetic fashion while avoiding melodrama.
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★★★½ review by bbbgtoby on Letterboxd
Charming and honest, a low-fi little gem of a movie that focuses on those moments after love has departed and just before a new love arrives, what those lonely interludes mean to us and how we survive. Director Yen Tan sets his mood of melancholy from the start and although there are times of appropriate levity he doesn't really let up thanks to some fine softly spoken performances from the four leads that capture a variety of moods and emotions and a well chosen selection of musical cues. Features one of the more impressively shot sex scenes in my memory, one that doesn't feel gratuitous, exploitative or unnecessary, utilising a camera setup that demonstrates real thought and care had gone in to connecting with both the actors and the audience.
Bill Heck is the standout performer who adds an extra layer of quality to proceedings, not exactly carrying the film but boosting it with his subtlety and heart.
★★★★ review by Mark Kinsella on Letterboxd
A beautiful and thoughtful drama directed by Yen Ten. Pit Stop follows two middle-aged gay men who are trapped by the shackles of their past failed relationships in the confines of a small Texan town. Both wanting the same things in their romantic lives but cornered by their trepidations of letting the past go, that they fail to realise they are right in front of each other and chance is the only thing that can bring them together.
Yen Tan and David Lowery's script is poignantly observant in the mechanisms of a gay relationship, it takes its time to unveil itself as a study of loneliness and self-isolation. Incredibly moving without incessant sentimentality which is solidified by a duo of excellent and convincing performances by Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda. The films obviously, very-tight budget makes Pit Stop a little rough around the edges but it has to be commended for a rare queer film that refuses to to fall victim to clichés or to typical stereotypes.
★★★½ review by Ken Rudolph on Letterboxd
Is there any sort of a market for a no-budget film about older (at least mid-30s old), ordinary, working-class gay men with real-life issues other than sex? There may not be an audience out there clamoring for such a film; but for me it's a breath of fresh air.
Gabe is a building contractor, still in a relationship with his wife and young daughter (for the sake of raising the kid) after a breakup with his boyfriend. Ernesto, Tex-Mex factory worker, has been providing shelter for a much younger, footloose Mexican man while continuing to read magazine articles to his comatose ex-lover. This is in small town Texas near Austin, certainly not an area known to be conducive to gay lifestyles.
The film develops with the pace of a Texas drawl; but with an air of reality that is hard to match in recent, attractive-youth-oriented, American indie gay cinema. The unfamiliar, realistically drab actors, skilled enough, shine through the dismally flat digital cinematography. I hope to see more of Bill Heck, who brings charm to the bearded, closeted Gabe. This isn't going to be a popular film; but I sure wish more adult gay films with issues that resonate could be made and released.
★★★½ review by Ronan Doyle on Letterboxd
Review from Next Projection
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” William Edward Hickson’s words could almost be tailor made for director Yen Tan, whose fourth feature Pit Stop follows eleven years after his earnest but errant debut Happy Birthday, and attests the significant artistic evolution he has evidently undergone in the interim period. He has tried, tried, tried again, and here he has succeeded wildly in channelling the recurrent gay themes of his work through expressive, experienced direction to deliver a film of formidable emotional resonance.
Crucial to the impact of Tan’s story is the naturalism of his leads: Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda play Gabe and Ernesto, romantically troubled gay men on opposite sides of a Texan town, with enduring allure. There’s a depth of humanity to each man’s face that Tan is happy to allow tell the story in dialogue’s stead, gestures largely substituted for words in communicating the brooding depths of their emotions. Living still with his ex-wife and young daughter, Gabe offers with his share of the narrative an interesting undercurrent on family dynamics, a theme that—like the film’s best aspects—goes largely unspoken. Ernesto, meanwhile, shares his home with the boyfriend from whom he has recently split, a similarly strange domestic arrangement that strengthens the backdrop of family-as-community against which these protagonists are most strongly developed.
Pit Stop’s title has clear repercussions when considered in light of these men’s situations: stilted in positions from which they really should—really need to—move on, their efforts to take a turn at this crossroads in life is the integral tension from which the drama is forged. And oh, what drama it is, as much born of Tan’s comprehensive control of the film’s visual and aural composition as of Heck and DeAnda’s terrific performances. Often shooting through doorways in a manner evocative of John Ford’s framing, Tan and mononymic cinematographer Hutch make visibly manifest the psychological alienation of their characters. Curtis Heath’s simplistic score, evocative to the last, somehow both drowns out the silences and amplifies them, his contemplative chords making all the more pronounced the lack of all other sound.
To focus excessively on the quietude of the film is perhaps to exaggerate its expressionism: Tan is not adverse to dialogue; indeed, a number of scenes boast deeply moving moments of speech, none more so than that when an emotional Ernesto breaks down at the bedside of a comatose ex-boyfriend. He is, though, genuinely talented at showing rather than telling, as in a touching early scene where Gabe’s dog simply sits compassionately by his side in a manner any caninophile will doubtlessly have experienced themselves. It’s familiarities like these at which the movie most excels: those instances of extraordinary empathy, where we find ourselves compulsively compelled to relate to these characters, afflicted as they are by the fear and loneliness universal to human experience.
Like its characters, however, Pit Stop is far from perfect. At times rough around the edges, its editing serves sometimes to distract with a displeasing cut, as too can the omnipresent darkness of its palette grow wearisome. Its subplots, whether that of the comatose ex or Gabe’s ex-wife’s own romantic efforts, are functional, if never quite fluid. Yet it speaks to the skills of the film’s cast and crew that the more it progresses, and the greater our entanglement in these lives grows, the less attention we pay to the drawbacks. In the movie’s pitch-perfect—and rather inevitable—conclusion, an intensely passionate sex scene as fine as cinema has seen, we see these characters consumed in a climax far more emotional than it is physical. They, like us as we watch, are overwhelmed in a moment of rare joy, through which all such negativity pales to insignificance.
★★★½ review by LeNoirAuteur on Letterboxd
Sometimes movies are incredibly clear in their intentions from the outset. Other films take their time, sneaking up on you and subtly creeping into your consciousness. and there are those films that sneak up on you, creeping into your consciousness. Pit Stop, an eloquent look at gay men living in Texas and the crossroads they find themselves at in their interactions, is most definitely the latter. While I had some problems with the first half of the film, the 2nd half is so wonderful that it made me reevaluate my entire experience. Anchored by some nuanced performances and a character driven screenplay, the film manages to say a lot without speaking loudly.
It’s amazing the kind of trance a movie can put you in when it’s more calm about it’s intentions. I didn’t even realize where the story would take me till the very end, and it’s only now after thinking about it that I notice the small things that made it such an enjoyable watch. The majority of Pit Stop is set in close confines, rooms, movie theaters, cars, all of which amplify the aesthetic of how repressed the characters feel. This is a film about trying to find happiness in the murky waters of societal and personal acceptance. Each character has a struggle. Gabe (Bill Heck) is a contractor reeling from his breakup and finds solace in being a good father to his daughter and a good friend to his ex-wife. Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda), having broken up with his live-in boyfriend is adrift amidst the fact that his previous lover is in a coma. Gabe’s wife Shannon (Amy Seimetz), is seeking the kind of romantic love she had with Gabe, but doesn’t know the correct way to go about getting it. These are complicated existences, rife with drama and laughter and hope amid the difficulties of living in a small town.
The performances in this film run the full gamut of emotions, but I was amazed at just how natural they felt. It’s one thing to play a small town person, but to radiate the character’s humanity without judgement is another thing entirely. Of all the good performances, Bill Heck’s incredibly rich turn as Gabe really stood out for me. It’s in the small details, the cracks in his voice when talking to his ex-boyfriend on the phone, the barely contained excitement after him and Ernesto hook up, and the almost childlike . I love when actors can amplify basic human emotions in fascinatingly nuanced ways and Heck really does a great job with his role.
The script, written by director Yen Tan and David Lowery, is very poignant and relies more on character beats than louder societal commentary. It’s for that reason that the film struggles out of the gate, taking longer than I expected to settle you in its rhythms. While I enjoyed how hemmed in the film felt, I do feel like there was an opportunity for some large social commentary by opening the story up more. I would have loved to see how the characters would have acted in large social gatherings or bigger places. However, all the problems of the script are just obliterated by a final 20 mins that are so perfect I wouldn’t have minded 20 minutes more of seeing where the characters would go from where they ended up. That’s a tough thing to accomplish, but when you’ve created characters that are so interesting to watch and given them real world motivations, it’s no surprise that a film like Pit Stop makes you yearn for more.
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