Gas Food Lodging (1992) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • In the boring desert of New Mexico, a single mother raises her two teenage daughters, Shade and Trudi, whose deepest desire is to leave the dead calm town. Shade is the type to escape in her extravagant fantasies while Trudi is so rebelious it could drive her away.


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  • In the rural desert town of Laramie, New Mexico, 16-year-old "Shade" Evans (Fairuza Balk) spends her free time at the local movie house, obsessed with melodramatic Mexican romances starring her favorite actress, Elvia Rivero. One day after a matinée, Shade meets her 18-year-old sister, Trudi (Ione Skye) , at the diner where their divorced mother, Nora (Brooke Adams), works. Nora sighs as Trudi insults the busboy by calling him a "wetback" after he accidentally spills her drink on their table while serving Trudi and Shade. When the busboy quits in protest, Shade, embarrassed by Trudi's racist behavior, announces that she does not like diner food and storms out.

    That night, Shade contemplates Nora's numerous failed relationships. Inspired by an Elvia Rivero movie, the adolescent girl decides to play matchmaker. However, as much as Shade would like to "find a man" for her mom, she remains curious about her biological father, John Evans. She telephones him, but hangs up as soon as he answers. Nora returns from a late shift, dismayed to see Trudi's empty bed. At 2:30 a.m., Trudi sneaks back, and Nora chastises her daughter for behaving irresponsibly. Shade covers her ears in an attempt to block out the argument.

    The next day, Trudi takes a job waitressing at the diner, intent on making enough money to move out. Shade goes to the movie theater to watch another Spanish-language Elvia Rivero picture, but in the middle of the movie, the screen goes blank. Shade wanders to the projection room, surprised to see Javier (Jacob Vargas), the busboy from the diner, now working as projectionist. He makes a biting remark about Trudi's racist behavior at the diner, but Shade retorts that he should focus on his new job, rather than hold a grudge against her sister. Javier laughs, charmed by Shade's fiery spirit.

    That night, Nora fends off the romantic advances of Raymond (Chris Mulkey), a local man with whom she had an affair years earlier. She returns his passionate kiss, but warns him that she has no intention of getting involved with a married man. Elsewhere in Laramie, Shade hangs out with her moody friend, Darius (Donovan Leitch). Her eyes widen as he interprets the lyrics to an Olivia Newton-John song. Meanwhile, Trudi sits alone in the diner after being rejected by the boy she has been dating. Her sniffling draws the attention of an English geologist named Dank (Robert Knepper), who offers to give her a ride home. En route, she makes scornful remarks about men, unaware that Dank finds her tirade amusing.

    The next day at the laundromat, Shade borrows change from a man named John (James Brolin), oblivious to his sidelong glances at Nora.

    Later that evening, Trudi joins Dank as he explores desert caves looking for phosphorescent rocks. After an intimate evening together where Trudi and Dank have sex in the cave, she confides she was gang raped the first time she had sex a few years ago. Afraid to report the crime, she decided to take a carefree attitude toward sex, becoming involved with any boy who showed interest. Trudi confesses that she never had a meaningful sexual experience until she met Dank. Later, the geologist announces that he needs to leave town for a few days. He assures the suspicious Trudi that she is special to him.

    When Trudi returns home the next morning, she and Nora get into another argument over Trudi staying out all night again. As Nora storms away, Hamlet Humphrey (David Lansbury), the local satellite dish installer, offers to listen to her problems, but she dismisses him.

    Meanwhile, Shade tells Trudi about her friend Darius, uncertain if she should reciprocate his "crush" on her. When Trudi advises making a bold move, Shade dresses up like Olivia Newton-John and attempts to seduce Darius, but he reveals that he is not attracted to her (implying he might be gay). Feeling foolish, Shade leaves and runs into Javier, who teases her about her appearance.

    That night, Shade arranges a blind date between Nora and Raymond. The two adults do not let on that they know each other, and struggle to keep from laughing during the awkward dinner. The teenager goes to bed disappointed in her day.

    A few weeks later, Trudi realizes that Dank is not coming back when he has not called or wrote to her. Then another week later, Trudi learns that learns that she is pregnant from her one-time sexual encounter with Dank at the cave. When Nora advises Trudi to get an abortion, she becomes outraged by her mother's insensitivity. Trudi decides to move to Dallas, Texas, and give the baby up for adoption.

    Sometime later, in an attempt to cheer up Shade, Nora suggests they get cable television. Hamlet Humphrey comes over to talk about the installation, but Nora changes her mind when she hears what it will cost. He flirts with her, and they make love. Meanwhile, Shade attends a party at her friend Tanya's (Julie Condra) house. A disc jockey musician visiting from Los Angeles, California, pressures Tanya to make out with him. Shade breaks up the tryst, but the boy and his friends refuse to leave. Meanwhile, the man from the laundromat drives past and notices the altercation. He stops and threatens the musicians, before offering to escort Shade home. On the way, he reveals that he is John Evans, her father. Shade is stunned, and in the morning confronts Nora with the news.

    A few days later, Shade locates her father at his house outside of town, and asks for money. The request provokes an outburst from John's girl friend, and Shade leaves, embarrassed. John follows and presses a roll of cash into her hand. Shade stops by Javier's house, curious to meet his family. Javier welcomes her with a few good-natured jokes, and later whispers passionately in her ear in Spanish. They kiss.

    In the ensuing weeks, Shade and Javier spend long afternoons together in the desert. As the teenagers fall in love, so do Nora and Hamlet. Shade is unimpressed with her mother's boyfriend until he reveals an admiration for Elvia Rivero.

    Several months later, Nora, Hamlet, and Shade go to Dallas to support Trudi through the delivery of her baby. Shade wants her sister to return to Laramie, but Trudi says she is looking forward to starting a new life in Dallas. Driving home, Shade notices a roadside business selling phosphorescent rocks. She asks Hamlet to drop her off and leave her while he and Nora drive back to Laramie. Confronting the vendors, Shade learns that they acquired the rocks from Dank, who died in a mine cave-in months earlier while collecting specimens.

    In the final scene, Shade walks back to Laramie through the desert, reflecting on the relationships between lovers, mothers, and daughters. Shade realizes that Dank always loved Trudi and vows to eventually tell her the truth of what happened to him someday.

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