To be clear, a sleeper isn't a boring movie. In fact, by definition, it's a success that no one saw coming. And a big reason one doesn't see a sleeper coming is because it's so often so understated. That's definitely the case for "Pit Stop" by Yen Tan, a Sundance-selected sleeper of the first water, winner of the Texas Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival and winner for Best Screenplay at the Nashville Film Festival.
In a dusty little Texas town, Gabe (Bill Heck) and Shannon (Amy Seimetz) co-parent their six-year-old daughter under the same roof, though they amicably divorced years ago after Gabe revealed he's gay. Shannon tries dating her coworker at the hardware store but she's clearly still hung up on Gabe, who's none too nice to the guys she brings home, though whatever spark he might have left for Shannon isn't enough to keep him from trolling on gay hook-up sites. A rugged construction contractor who keeps his private life private, Gabe prefers to seek out his own action instead of letting Shannon set him up with guys who remind him too much of himself, i.e., guys who never got out of the sticks and probably never will.
A jerkwater or two away, there's Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda), a forklift operator who stands wedged between too heartbreaks: an ex who's in a coma and whom he goes and reads to every day, even though said ex had betrayed Ernesto when he was in better shape; and another, much younger ex Luis (Alfredo Maduro), who dumped Ernesto for not wanting to move to the big city, though Luis still lives with Ernesto and doesn't seem in any too big a hurry to move out himself. Once Ernesto finally gets up the nerve show Luis the door, it's hard to tell which is harder for him, watching his former lover languish on life support or pulling the plug on his cold-comfort arrangement with Luis?
Amidst this wreckage, Gabe and Ernesto meet online for an assignation that, at first flush, might seem as prosaic as the leit-motif Pit Stop convenience store that Tan's characters keep coming in and out of, yet the viewer sees there's far more to their meeting than meets the eye. As demonstrated in his 2002 feature debut, "Happy Birthday," Tan has a yen for training our attention on the geysers that are about to burst from the hearts of characters whose dreary lives belie their silently epic struggles.
Performances are stellar all-around and one senses the director has stepped back and let real life do the work.
Release Date: February 4, 2014