Ernest is 13, a little chubby, and in the throes of puberty. He has
entered a writing contest, but his mother calls him a failure for only getting
honorable mention. (According to his bio, writer/director Michael Kang won
"honorable mention" in a scholastic writing contest in grade school). The one
bright spot in Sam's life is a 15-year-old girl who works at her parents'
nearby restaurant. Ernest is in love, but she merely sees him as a friend.
He is stuck working in the family business, a sleazy motel with
hourly rates. There are not many rewards to be gained from his job, although dealing with the motel guests does provide his life
with a liberal education. One night, Sam, a charismatic Korean man,
arrives with a hooker in tow and evidently sees something of himself in
Ernest, so he takes the boy under his wing, even teaching him to drive.
Unfortunately, Sam is really just an overgrown kid himself, separated from his
wife, and trying to screw his way to happiness. He used a maxed-out credit
card to pay for his room, and Ernest tries to hide that from his mother.
The Motel is a wonderful coming-of-age comedy that happens to take place in
an Asian-American family. It should appeal to any man who remembers what
thirteen felt like, and any woman who ever had to deal with 13-year-old boys.
The children's performances are excellent, and Jade Wu nails the role of the
mother with a harsh exterior, but so much more just beneath the surface.
Although the film was made with a miniscule budget, it doesn't seem to be
cheaply made because the budget is stretched by a story that takes place
almost entirely in the motel. Granted this is not a large film, but it is a
sensitive one with an excellent sense of humor and a great deal of truth.
If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to
explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by
our definition, a
C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs
and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: