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A radiant teenage road trip in 'Gasoline Rainbow'
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In sibling directors Bill and Turner Ross ' latest, "Gasoline Rainbow," five Oregon teens just out of high school make their meandering way some 500 miles to reach the coast for what's been billed as the "End of the World" party.

They are like countless young protagonists before them: on the road to find out. But while they share much of the same yearnings and anxieties of American road travelers from "On the Road" to "Easy Rider," the circumstances of their particular coming of age are uniquely theirs — and what's on the radio dial is, too. "Dude, I want to listen to some Shakira, bro," one says from the backseat of their van.

This being the Ross brothers — the makers of the Texas-Mexico border portrait "Western" and "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets," in which they brought 22 people to a Las Vegas dive bar and asked them to act as though it was closing the next day — we are in a hybrid film world, part documentary, part fiction. Our characters — Micah, Nathaly, Nichole, Tony, Makai — are nonprofessional actors and their journey is a loosely constructed series of encounters that mostly unfold naturally.

It's a filmmaking approach that can, in its weaker moments, result in the worst of both worlds: the rambling narrative of documentary and the manufactured quality of fiction. But on the whole, the Ross brothers' observational, immersive filmmaking gets close to something bracingly real.

In the case of "Gasoline Rainbow," now open in theaters, much is expressed by the land the teens traverse. Whether by car or on foot, their travels take them under highway overpasses, through sprawling train yards and along long rows of wind turbines. Global warming is mentioned only once, but it hovers over their uncertain future. They make their way across baren, dry lands and industrial blight. The name of that party is no coincidence.

Bleak as that may be, "Gasoline Rainbow" — which would fit comfortably alongside films like Alma Har'el's "Bombay Beach" and Andrea Arnold's "American Honey" — is most concerned with the question of: So what now? For these young people, unsure of what to do with their lives, getting out on the road provides plenty of answers. The world they've been left by older generations may be damaged. "Do you know what the difference is between kids and adults?" one elder tells them. "Adults aren't supervised." But there is beauty to be found, like shimmering pools of gasoline, if you're willing to hit the road and make some new friends.

The answer lies most in community — in daring to leave the house, meet strangers and find like-minded souls. Perhaps more than anything, the Ross brothers — with a keen eye for American eccentrics — are interested in gathering together all the most interesting people they can find. And the spirit of camaraderie that results warms just as much as the bonfires gathered round in "Gasoline Rainbow."


"Gasoline Rainbow," a Mubi release, is not rated by the Motion Picture Association. Running time: 110 minutes. Three stars out of four.