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Knight at the Movies: Pit Stop; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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It's early morning in a rural, small town in Texas. As usual, Gabe ( Bill Heck ) is stopping by the local convenience mart/gas station in his red pick-up to fill his coffee thermos before heading off to work. As Gabe leaves, he doesn't take notice of Ernesto ( Marcus DeAnda ), who is pulling next to him in the parking lot in his silver pick-up, intent on doing the same thing. For the bulk of the next 80 minutes, these two lonely gay men approaching middle age will inadvertently bypass each other at that gas station in their search for love as the audience patiently waits for them to get together.

The wait will be worth it. In Pit Stop, out director Yen Tan's slow-moving but insightfully observed film, it's all about trying to mend the fractured connections that life throws at us and the importance of small details that audiences recognize from their own lives. The movie, which won raves on the gay film-festival circuit last year ( including Reeling ), is just out from Wolfe Releasing.

This isn't the cinema of scenery-chewing in a family drama like August: Osage County, or a gay variation on the urban-based dishfest of Sex and the City and its ilk. Nor is it one of those guilty gay-themed indies featuring pleasurable guys with no shirts or pants—not that there's anything remotely wrong with those movies ( all of which I love ).

What I find refreshing about Pit Stop, which Tan and David Lowery co-wrote, is not just its naturalistic approach ( which is nice but hardly novel ), or that it's so well-written, acted and directed ( rarer, but still not an anomaly ). No, the movie's great rarity is that it has been so carefully constructed that not a moment of it feels false. We are given characters and situations so recognizable that a sense of emotional deja vu envelops the movie from beginning to end ( heightened by the judicious editing of Don Swaynos and the subtle, dream-like music of Curtis Glenn Heath on the soundtrack ). Who hasn't had setbacks like these in the search for meaningful connection?

Gabe—with his long, thin, bearded, kindly face and lithe body—is a closeted construction worker living with his ex-wife, Shannon ( Amy Seimetz ), and their young daughter. After a liaison with a married man has fallen through, he's quietly pursuing a male relationship on the side. So, although he's furious when Shannon reveals he's gay to a teacher at the high school, Gabe agrees to a movie date in nearby Dallas because, well, you never know…

On the other side of town Ernesto—a Latino with sensual lips; a compact, muscular frame; and eyes that can't disguise a great deal of torment—nightly visits to a previous lover who is in a coma in the hospital, reading to him selections from his favorite advice magazines. Ernesto has been allowing Luis ( Alfredo Maduro ), another ex-lover ( this one much younger ), to stay with him until he can make other arrangements. But one night after coming home from the hospital, Ernesto loses his patience and insists that Luis needs to go.

While the focus is on Gabe and Ernesto, who are separately pursuing romance, the movie gives each of the supporting characters—no matter how small ( some with only one scene )—a chance to make their mark with the audience. ( It shares this rarely achieved ability with The Kids Are All Right. ) Each of these actors memorably shines in his brief screen time and there's not a wasted frame in the picture ( yet another rarity ). And Heck and DeAnda give luminous performances as Gabe and Luis, with their unstated but strong yearning for love and connection so palpable from the outset. When the two finally meet ( back at that all-important convenience store/gas station ) the ensuing scenes unfold like a delicious payoff and the exaltation of Gabe and Ernesto—each quietly elated and hopeful at his unexpected good fortune—is achingly poignant. Pit Stop is one of those small miracles that cinemaphiles justly revel in and it's a supreme addition to the queer-cinema canon.

Film notes:

—Jobriath A.D.—the fascinating documentary examination of glamrock's self-proclaimed "rock 'n' roll fairy," the talented and tragic gender-bending Jobriath ( Bruce Wane Campbell )—is playing at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., until Thursday, Feb. 6. Kieran Turner's extraordinary movie was one of my favorite films of 2012 and this Chicago theatrical run is long overdue. Don't miss it.

—African-American LGBTQ filmmaker and actress Cheryl Dunye, renowned for her groundbreaking 1996 film Watermelon Woman, will be present for a reception, screening and audience Q&A of the movie on Thursday, Feb. 13, at the University of Illinois at Chicago/Gallery 400, 400 S. Peoria St., beginning at 6:20 p.m. UIC's Gender and Sexuality Center and Team 101 Chicago are presenting the evening.

On Friday, Feb. 14, Dunye's 2001 TV movie Stranger Inside will screen along with a sneak preview of her newest film, the forthcoming Black Is Blue. The screenings will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St.

—G.B.F., the delightful queer-themed high school Mean Girls-meets-Glee comedy and the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club, with Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto ( both frontrunners for this year's Oscar race ), are both just out on DVD, and are essential adds to your collection.

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