Sleeping in Plastic came out for festival audiences last year, receiving the one critical pan and some audience raves. Director-writer Van Ditthavong’s film now calls itself All Roads Lead to Pearla. It’s a film of dark nights in Texas where high school wrestling players do their rage jogging. Scenes like that have some musician’s cover of Where is My Mind playing in the background.
That wrestler, by the way, is Brandon Bell (Alex MacNicoll). Nights lead to days. For some reason All Roads takes us behind the meat department of a store. An injury frees up Brandon’s time, a plot device in All Roads that eventually gets him to meet Pearla (Addison Timlin), who tries to help him with his groceries. She somehow asks him to drive her around in the middle of the night, offering to pay him in return.
It turns out that Pearla is a sex worker, a job that Brandon, a simpleton, has moral reservations against. But he reluctantly takes the job to get away from his mother, who also calls herself Pearla (Morgana Shaw). The film deserves some credit for the way it shoots Ben. The protagonist looks taller and younger here, a vessel experiencing the moodiness of this small Texas town. It seems, then, that the film just uses mood to distract from how it lacks a lot of things that good movies have.
Some of those things include nuanced depictions of sensitive themes. One of Pearla’s customers is Brandon’s wrestling coach (Nick Chinlund) who dresses her up in men’s sweats. The implication, of course, is that the coach is in the closet which, like, why can’t he just hire male escorts? His subplot also involves flashbacks of a naked male running through the desert. This might have connections with a dead male on a highway that a sheriff finds. Thanks, movie, but also it doesn’t resolve that subplot.
After a long night of working, young Pearla gets a call from her pimp, Oz Bacco, (Dash Mihok), wondering what’s taking her so long and who Brandon is. If you indulge me on a digression. It’s always nice to see Dash Mihok in a film because he is one of two supporting characters in Leonardo di Caprio’s early career. During that stage, those movies’ best friend roles, in my opinion, were cuter than the lead. One website describes Oz as violent and gay, which is both offensive yet campy. It makes me wish I saw a real movie that’s both violent and gay.
Both Oz and the coach are masculine gays, and that choice feels like a coin toss when it comes to how audiences will receive that. Anyway, sure, Pearla might have just hired him to get away from O, but isn’t it the pimp’s job to drive their escorts around? They don’t discuss this discrepancy and instead talk to each other using vague dialogue. It also doesn’t help that some of the dialogue sounds muffled and that the young supporting actors don’t enunciate.
The muffling is so bad that I literally thought that my neuro-divergence got worse while watching this movie. And one line of dialogue is as follows. “In a perfect world we’ll be dancing all the time,” which is something Pearla says to Brandon after they go out dancing. For context, he wants to work at an El Paso oil rig and she wants to run away from sex work and Oz. It’s possible to see how good that line is theoretically, but not here. What’s worse is that there’s 105 minutes worth of that dialogue.
Watch All Roads Lead to Pearla on iTunes, if you dare.