Puberty sucks, and nobody knows it better than 13-year-old Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau). As he watches guests come and go, Ernest finds himself forever stuck at his family's hourly-rate motel, where he divides his time between taking orders from his overbearing mom, cleaning up after whatever miscreants the motel may attract and longing for the girl of his dreams, 15-year-old Christine (Samantha Futerman, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA). When charismatic Sam Kim (Sung Kang, PEARL HARBOR, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT) checks into the motel, fatherless Ernest is taken under his wing and hustled toward manhood, for better or worse. THE MOTEL is an honest portrait of adolescence as heartfelt and authentic as it is hilarious.
Winner of the Humanitas Prize at Sundance 2005, The Motel
is a charming feature debut by writer/director Michael Kang. Between Kang and producer Gina Kwon (Me and You and Everyone We Know
), this chronicle of adolescent sexual exploration shares the clean, contemporary look of Miranda July's film, and also Dayton/Faris's recent release, Little Miss Sunshine
. Interestingly, all three examinations of humanity's awkwardness star nerdy, charismatic children. Punctuated by spare dialogue, The Motel
follows Ernest (Jeffrey Chyau), a thirteen year-old Chinese American boy whose family runs a roach motel primarily visited by prostitutes and druggies. Ernest's mother and grandfather strictly enforce their depressing traditional family work ethic, squashing Ernest's hopes of winning a writing contest that he has secretly entered, for example. As Ernest cleans scummy rooms, he discovers porno magazines and other evidence of raunchy sexual escapades. Intrigued but shy about his sexual prospects, Ernest casually enlists his semi-girlfriend, Christine (Samantha Futerman) to explore magazine images with him. Funny, touching scenes of Ernest with his little sister's stuffed toy bunny, to name one, remind the viewer of that curious age when sex is mysterious but tangible. When renegade adult, Sam Kim (Sung Kang), moves into the motel to drink and cavort with women, Ernest befriends him and takes tips. Eventually Ernest realizes that he's a gentleman as he begins to understand the subtleties of love. In this film marked by sincerity, one can't help but think of the protagonist's name metaphorically. --Trinie Dalton