Mubi’s Zoomer Road Trip Is Strictly Good Vibes

Everybody’s trying to get to the End of the World — or at least a party spot called that — in “Gasoline Rainbow,” a road trip independent feature that follows a group of zoomer besties on their fantastical send-off to adolescence. The Mubi release, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last fall, sees directing brothers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross applying their semi-improvised production stylings to five teenage actors: a compelling technique that doesn’t manage to fully satisfy its appetite for behavioral observation.

Introduced through glimpses of their student IDs and childhood bedrooms, Tony Abuerto, Micah Bunch, Nichole Dukes, Nathaly Garcia and Makai Garza (mostly just playing themselves) leave behind those adolescent identities, pile into a van and gun it west toward the Pacific Ocean. As the group cheers accelerating out of their small Oregon town, the film’s sound mix grows into the furious turbulence of a space shuttle breaking out of the Earth’s atmosphere. This will be a summer to remember.

Along for the ride are the Rosses, stringing the story from one loose scenario to another and serving as their own camera operators (and editors too, for good measure). Often shaking along just a few steps behind the teens, “Gasoline Rainbow” could be mistaken for a found-footage feature at a glance, though there are also plenty of landscape wides to add a travelogue magnificence. Here, the sibling directors fashion a new vehicle for their pseudo-documentary stylings, which last carried them to a Sundance breakout in 2020 with the poignant oddity “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets,” about an eclectic guild of barflies facing down existential troubles during their regular dive’s final night of operations.

Like the filmmakers’ last effort, “Gasoline Rainbow” offers ample space for its performers to paint their own modest self-portrait. Unified in their merriness, the multi-ethnic teenage quintet practically melds together into a single organism, self-sustaining in its light razzing and arguments in good fun. Apart from a brief early kiss, they don’t even seem to be sexually motivated. And there’s seldom a cell phone in sight, unless it’s being used as a flashlight or to queue up broad bangers like “Big Poppa” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

It’s a warm, uncomplicated characterization that forecasts a lot of easy riding. “Gasoline Rainbow” fully indulges in its leads’ carefree attitude. Even as they wander through the desert or covertly hitch a ride on a freight train, their safety never seems in even the slightest jeopardy. The world is their backyard. Despite the film’s observational visual approach, a guiding hand can often be felt moving the teens from place to place — a protectiveness that comes from the heart, but also quickly limits the film to a wispy, mystical register. Most of the places the teens pass through seem transient and few of the friendly strangers they meet — punk runaways and traveling skateboarders and other wild things — make an impression.

That surrender to naivety is also the essential charm of “Gasoline Rainbow,” as well as its narrative spine, with the teens’ giddy pull toward the party at the End of the World, mythologized in passing by nearly everyone they encounter. The friends’ drive to keep up the good vibes despite some logistical complications clues into how these speed bumps are preferable to the worse apocalypse that they are delaying. As one of the girls puts it, “When we come back, we all have to get fucking jobs.” The vacation reaches a poignant final stretch with an oceanside, fourth-wall-breaking finale practically, but effectively, ripped from “The 400 Blows” — the New Wave coming-of-age grand-daddy to “Gasoline Rainbow.” With it, the Ross brothers’ film asks the same question for this new generation: Childhood is over. Now what?

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