Lake Tahoe is one of those indie films that opens with a shot of a barren wasteland, slowly clicking through images like a moving slideshow until it finally settles on a scene worth playing out. In this case, the scene comes five minutes into the movie, as Juan — a teen who just crashed his family's car into a telephone pole — calls home on a payphone.
He strolls through a near-deserted Mexican town unsuccessfully looking for help at its many auto-repair shops (for a place where not a lot happens, there sure are a lot of places to get your car fixed here). And so begins Juan's day, as he meets one quirky indie-movie character after another, and then back again, until Lake Tahoe comes full circle.
Trying to track down a part for his smashed car, Juan (Diego Cataño) runs into a handful of residents, including a nunchucks-wielding, Bruce Lee-quoting kung-fu fan and a teenage single mom who chain-smokes and wants to be a pop star. It's all very indie-idiosyncratic and all very monotonous, especially when director Fernando Eimbcke flips through scenes like they're part of his vacation photos.
Not much happens in the quiet, slow-moving Lake Tahoe (the significance of the title is revealed at the end of the film). We don't spend enough time with any of the characters to really get to know them. And we never learn much about Juan — who's in every single scene — other than his dad recently died and he lives with his mom and younger brother.
Still, the movie does have a few enjoyable moments — like a long, uncut scene with an old man and his dog noisily eating cereal while a blank-faced Juan stares into the distance. And the snapshot-like vistas that fill the screen are lovely.
If it's not exactly an eventful day for Juan, you get the sense that it's at least an atypical one. And not just because he crashed his car. But Cataño plays every scene the same: straight-faced and with zero emotion. In indie circles, this may be hip. But in Lake Tahoe, it borders on boring.