Comparing ‘Anchorage’ to ‘Easy Rider,’ While Obvious, Is Unfair

The straggly picture Scott Monahan and Dakota Loesch have concocted is infinitely more coherent than Dennis Hopper’s flat-footed icon of 1960s hedonism. Admittedly, sometimes it’s just as indulgent.

Erin Naifeh via The Malt Shop, Charley
Dakota Loesch in 'Anchorage.' Erin Naifeh via The Malt Shop, Charley

More decades ago than I would like to remember, I attended a lecture at the University of Baltimore given by John Waters, the cut-rate visionary behind such testaments to kitsch as “Pink Flamingos,” “Hair Spray,” and “Polyester.” 

After speaking for an hour or so, Mr. Waters fielded questions from the audience. “Do you consider your movies to be obscene?” he was asked. Mr. Waters was quick to respond: No, they aren’t. The typical Hollywood blockbuster has a budget that could feed a developing nation for a good year, and that, dear audience member, is obscene, he said.

I was reminded of Mr. Waters’s comment upon gleaning the production notes accompanying “Anchorage,” the new film directed by Scott Monahan and written by Dakota Loesch. It’s an interesting read. Mr. Monahan shot the film in five days and did so chronologically. With the exception of two nighttime scenes, natural lighting was used throughout filming. The entire crew consisted of eight people and the cost of the project, all of which was self-funded, came to $54,000.

We don’t necessarily judge works of art by the expenditures that went into them, but, if we use The Waters Criterion, “Anchorage” is resoundingly not obscene. What might it be, then? 

Grating is one answer; ugly, too. At moments, the picture is corny, albeit in ways that seem grounded on direct experience. At other moments, it’s so because the filmmakers can’t resist editorializing. Mostly, though, “Anchorage” is absorbing, particularly as the movie reaches the three-quarter mark, wherein decisions are made that, you know, don’t solve much of anything.

“Anchorage” is, essentially, a two-hander centered on Jacob (Mr. Monahan) and John (Mr. Loesch), 20-something brothers raised in a religious household by a strong and loving mother who has since died. They’re heading to the title location from their home base in Florida. We meet them as they’re driving through a particularly hellish stretch of the California desert, a vista populated by abandoned homes, empty factories, and nary a human soul.

Scott Monahan and Dakota Loesch in ‘Anchorage.’ Erin Naifeh via The Malt Shop, Charley

The only thing Jacob and John have to their names is a rattletrap car. Jacob has blue hair and a gold grill on his lower bite. John doesn’t have a piece of clothing that isn’t riddled with holes and prefers, on the whole, to wear a pair of fire engine red thermals. The brothers spend their nights in derelict houses strewn with rubble and graffiti. All the while they bicker, bond and brawl as only brothers can. Jacob and John are exhausting.

The goal is to reach Alaska and sell the opioids they have squirreled away in the trunk of their car, all of which have been hidden in a raft of stuffed animals.

Jacob and John have alarming substance abuse problems. John, especially, can’t stop ingesting whatever might be handy — including their stash, which, according to his calculations, was going to reap a cool million once they sold it in Anchorage. That he’s both unstable and at the end of his rope is clear from the moment John sidles onto the screen. Jacob is, in relative terms, more together. He begins to cast an increasingly worried eye at his brother’s doings.

To describe “Anchorage” as the “Easy Rider” for the 21st century is a no-brainer and unfair. The straggly picture Messrs. Monahan and Loesch have concocted is infinitely more coherent and, in its own way, more humane than Dennis Hopper’s flat-footed icon of 1960s hedonism. Admittedly, sometimes it’s just as indulgent. 

The actors, particularly Mr. Loesch, have a tendency to remind us that they’re performers first and characters second. Still and all, “Anchorage” is as pithy as it is harsh, and is recommended to those who take an interest in the underside of American life.

The New York Sun

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