SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Americana goes feral and eats its young in the heartbreaking documentary Motel Drive by director Brendan Geraghty. It was shot over seven years on a single city block of broken-down transient motels in Fresno, California. It follows the Shaw family’s struggle to get themselves out of the economic quicksand they are stuck in.
We are first introduced to Jason Shaw and his wife, Deandra, cleaning the motels along the strip in order to afford the room in the one they live in with their young son, Justin. The motels used to be booming back in the 1960s when Fresno was a Route 66 destination, with Nat King Cole and The Rolling Stones playing there. Then a major highway was built that bypassed Fresno and killed its tourist industry. The old-school elegance of the classic motel signs morphed into symbols of blight as they became hives of drugs and prostitution. The Shaws work endlessly to stay indoors but also grapple with meth.
“…follows the Shaw family’s struggle to get themselves out of the economic quicksand they are stuck in.”
Justin has to change schools all the time and still can’t hide his impoverishment from his classmates. Jed, Justin’s mentor in an after-school program, tries to show him that he doesn’t have to stay in the rut his parents are in. Jason and Deandra are always talking about getting out of the ticker-tack wasteland of the strip. Then there’s Dannie, a navy veteran in poor health who begs to help feed him and his cats.
We also meet Dr. Marc Lasher, who runs a needle exchange program and treats the residents’ abscesses from IV drug abuse. But then, a gigantic superhighway project is announced. This means some of the motels will be demolished. However, the residents will be paid off handsomely. The new road will bring visitors and prosperity back to Fresno. Everything is going to be sunny side up. Then Motel Drive spotlights how everything gets mucked up again. Is there any hope?
"…never indulges in exploiting the self-destructive behavior of the forever guests..."