Pearblossom Hwy is a character study from director Mike Ott, whose 2010 film Littlerock was an impressive indie. In it, two young friends, Cory and Anna, fight against failure in a small town in “the desert.”
Many of the collaborators on Littlerock returned to work on Pearblossom Hwy. If you saw Littlerock, you’ll recognize actors Cory Zacharia and Atsuko Okatsuka (who cowrote Pearblossom Hwy with Ott), playing almost the same characters, named Cory and Atchan (Anna, for short).
Cory says he’s not gay, but he has the typical mannerisms and speech of a gay man. He is gentle, naïve, and not exactly Mensa material. If you ask what he does for a living, he’ll tell you he’s making an audition video for a reality show, and that his band is starting to get some gigs. At a concert you won’t be able to make out the lyrics, which is probably for the best because when he recites them, they lack meter and rhyme. They are a heartfelt statement of defiance against conformity, although you have to wonder whether “conformity” is the biggest threat to Cory’s existence.
Anna is studying for her citizenship test. She’s Japanese, still tethered to her grandmother via cell phone calls, and feeling homesick. The money is short and she nervously sells herself at a truckstop for enough money to tide her over.
Cory’s brother Jeff (John Brotherton) (or are they half-brothers?) arrives in town to hang out with Cory for a while. Jeff is a square-jawed, gainfully employed, red-blooded American. He was a Marine, defending his brother’s “right to do shit.” When he sees Cory’s life, he reacts with a mixture of concern and disdain. The brothers talk about their father — Jeff has been in contact, but Cory has never met the man. Jeff offers to drive Cory up to meet him. Cory is nervous, and says he’ll go if Anna comes with them.
In Pearblossom Highway, scripted dialogue and staged acting is blurred with video diary footage created by the actors. It’s not a coincidence that the characters share the same names as the actors. In fact, in the last scene, Cory is asked about his dad, “in the movie or in real life?”. If you didn’t know there was video-diary footage, you might not even pick up on that revealing slip.
Ott and the actors understand the pressure young people feel to even mildly “succeed.” Yet it often feels like desire, ability, and opportunity work against you at that age. Cory’s badly-rhymed rage against “conformity” butts up against the shining example set by his brother. As for Anna, she’s smart enough to pass her citizenship test, but economics, homesickness, and the shame from selling herself make “success” seem as unattainable for her as it is for Cory.
Ott and friends don’t have any answers for this generation, only sympathy and honesty. The audience might take a quantum of solace from the thought that, even though we can’t help the Cories and Annas, maybe our attention understanding will be therapeutic; maybe it will relieve some of their pressure.