A finely nuanced portrait of two gay men in a small Texas town slowly finding their way toward each other, “Pit Stop” is a low-key but ultimately deeply satisfying third feature from helmer/co-scenarist Yen Tan (“Ciao”). Lacking any kind of flash in star power, conception or execution, this astute drama could nonetheless follow the path of something like Andrew Haigh’s Britpic “Weekend” in breaking out of the gay fest/niche home-format ghetto to score theatrical release on merit alone.
While they don’t actually meet until the film’s final scenes, the primary protags are in roughly similar circumstances, awkwardly still cohabiting with domestic partners they’ve otherwise broken up with. It takes a while for Tan and David Lowery’s script to fill in the exposition. Construction contractor Gabe (Bill Heck) and hardware-store clerk Shannon (Amy Seimetz) are no longer married, but have opted to stay under one roof for the sake of their 6-year-old daughter (Bailey Bass).
Meanwhile, forklift operator Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) still shares his apartment with younger, directionless Luis (Alfredo Maduro), who ended their relationship out of a need to escape the podunk town. But to Ernesto’s annoyance, he’s really taking his time moving out.
Living in separate bedrooms, all concerned ache for deeper companionship. So Shannon commences a tentative romance with a nice-guy co-worker (John Merriman), despite Gabe’s unrighteous grumbling. Ernesto finally pushes Luis out the door, though neither is quite as over the other as he pretends. Still, Ernesto pays hospital visits to an older ex-lover who’s laid in a coma since a car accident.
While not so highly dramatic (let alone tragic) a narrative as “Brokeback Mountain,” this modern-day story nonetheless evinces a not-dissimilar air of mostly closeted gay semi-rural Western life, despite the availability of Internet hookups and the relative proximity of a big city (Austin).
Granting nearly as much screentime to Shannon and Luis as it does the two leads (plus one long section to Corby Sullivan as a newly arrived schoolteacher who asks Gabe out), “Pit Stop” offers fully realized characters and soft-pedals Lone Star State stereotypes. Never pulling emotional strings, the pic’s unwavering understatement pays off in a well-earned ending rich in possibility.
Perfs are first-rate, assembly modest but apt, with Curtis Glenn Heath’s folk-country score (including some original songs) hitting the perfect spare yet yearning note. The mono-monikered Hutch’s widescreen lensing is pro, but somewhat pedestrian; a little more visual personality and evocation of place would have helped.