Review: The Motel Life

Written by: Dee Pilgrim


Motels have become something of a motif in American movies; faceless, anonymous places on the margins of life frequented by the down at heel, the downtrodden and the dispossessed.

Stephen Dorff and Emile Hirsch in The Motel Life

Motels are just the kind of place you’d expect to find brothers Frank and Jerry Lee; orphaned at a young age and living a hand-to-mouth existence.

Frank (a really impressive Emile Hirsch) is the responsible sibling, earning money at a used car lot owned by father figure Earl (Kris Kristofferson) in order to look after wayward Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff) who keeps going off the rails. Frank feels he owes Jerry Lee who lost a leg in an accident Frank blames on himself, so when Jerry Lee returns one night covered in blood after knocking a neighbourhood kid down in his car, the brothers flee their motel room in Reno for yet another anonymous motel in Elko.

The only thing Frank really cares about is in Elko – Annie (Dakota Fanning), his one-time girlfriend who left Reno to make a new start in life.  That’s exactly what Frank wants to do too, but Jerry Lee keeps mucking up and with the cops on their trail for the hit and run, it seems he will never escape this ‘motel life’.

This is a drifters tale of dashed dreams and unfulfilled lives and although it is beautifully shot and exceptionally well played (the scenes between Hirsch and Kristofferson are understated and yet full of emotion) it never really sparks into life.

In fact, the film itself just drifts; it tries hard to take flight but never quite does.




Author: Dee Pilgrim

Dee always knew she wanted to make her living from writing and so trained as a journalist before working for a variety of music and women’s titles including Sounds, Company, Cosmopolitan, Ms London, New Woman, and Girl About Town. After going freelance she concentrated on celebrity interviews and film, theatre, music and restaurant reviews. Her love of film goes back to her very first cinema experience at the age of five when her mother took her to see Bambi. She cried. At one time she was the Film Editor for NOW magazine and also the secretary for the film section of the Critics’ Circle and the celebrity coordinator for its annual film awards’ event. She has written a number of books for teenagers through Trotman Publishing, including five Real Life Guides to vocational careers (including Carpentry, Plumbing and Catering), and also three books on Real Life Issues (Money, Bereavement and Self Harm). Her favourite film is still Bladerunner.

Read more posts by


Leave a comment