The High Road
Not rated, 85 min. Directed by Thomas Pallotta. Starring Fella Speer, Allison Parks, David Dart, Loren Guerra.
A version of this review ran in The Austin Chronicle in March 1996 when this film premiered in Austin at the SXSW Film Festival. Running out of gas is a bitch; running out of booze is murder,” warns a cryptic Texan in Pallotta’s first feature The High Road, and this character’s words provide the anthem for a group of four friends whose ennui probably will strike a familiar chord for more than a few Austinites, let alone the nation’s general population of twentysomethings. (Following its screening at the SXSW Film Festival, The High Road was also included in Lincoln Center’s prestigious Independents Nights series in New York City.) While its dialogue doesn’t move much beyond the scope of the gas/booze analogy, The High Road often captures those precarious moments when a slacker lifestyle seems both hazily glamorous and a little pathetic. Despite the tired subject matter, the film does have a knack for presenting the indescribable minutiae of such a lifestyle. Eclectic images expertly unfold from Austin-based cinematographer Deb Lewis’ camera: geese on a neighborhood porch, an abandoned carnival ride twinkling in a Texas field, sensual shadows on a drive-in movie screen. The film’s characters generally fit the slacker stereotype; there’s not a whole lot of new territory explored here. But as The High Road progresses, the character of Phil (Speer) – the most nihilistic of the group – suggests an interesting if destructive depth beyond his perpetual fog. For this character alone, Pallotta’s writing and Speer’s acting deserve mention. Additionally, Scott Rhodes and David Smith’s editing combine with a somewhat tongue-in-cheeky soundtrack to provide direction and pacing to the meandering narrative. Although Natalie (Parks) believes that “little things are beside the point,” it’s these “little things” that establish The High Road’s finer moments. (See related interview with director Thomas Pallotta in this issue’s “Screens” section.)
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