Turbo Cola  Review – A Cool Drink Kinda 90s-Style Coming-of-Age Film
It is the New Year’s Eve of the millennium. As we hear excited reporters on the television talking about the many possibilities that the 21st century would reign in, right at the start of the film, we get a clear idea of the exact period in which the film is located. This is the end of the 90s, and it is marked by a curious desire to explore the possibilities that the world has to offer. Many of us were so young during this time that we barely remember it, while for others, it can be a pathway to nostalgia. Based on the play by Samantha Oty, New Year’s Eve at the Stop-n-Go, Turbo Cola, directed by Luke Covert, successfully brings home this delicate moment of transition from the 90s to the 2000s.
While the whole world is eagerly waiting for the new millennium, the story centers around Austin, played by Nicholas Stoesser. He works at the Quality Mart gas station and has been planning to rob the ATM there with his friend, Swearsky, played by Jared Spears, for a week now. Their plan of action is carefully designed to commit the perfect crime. Austin plans to use the money to move to New York for a girl he believes he loves, Mary Jane, played by Jordyn Denning, who has gotten a scholarship to study at NYU. Austin and Swearsky will have to miss out on the biggest party of the night for this crime, a gamble they are willing to make; unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as they think. Will Austin’s big plans blow up in the face of the many challenges he faces that evening?
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Every time I watch a coming-of-age film, I tend to look out for a slightly blurred moment of epiphany. It is because we have all been through that moment in our adolescence when the haze lifted from in front of our eyes just enough to let us see things better but not crystal clear. Turbo Cola was mostly a hit than a miss for me. There is a fine balance between the tension of Austin’s bold plan and his coming of age that Covert does his best to keep from tipping. What is noteworthy is how the moment of transition in time and age coincides with the lives of Austin and his group of friends, featuring a peculiarly theatrical climax. It is short and slightly chaotic but well-rounded.
Sadly, the backdrop of this film is not well-explored and eventually becomes one of its bigger flaws. Otherwise, it would be easier for the audience to relate Austin’s coming of age with the millennium turning its table. Prototype characters come and go as they please, making Quality Mart the center stage for all action. This would have worked for me if it were a theater performance, but I found its scope limiting for a film’s screenplay. The mart itself becomes a character, an important one at that because it is a microscopic display of the material world of the 90s at its peak. Neon lights on walls, dirt-stained bathrooms, an old-school CCTV monitor, and rows and rows of stacked soft drinks, chocolates, and junk helps pack the film with the essence of the 90s to its brim. However, even if we take the ambiance away from the narrative, the coming-of-age plot is universal, ensuring that an audience of mixed age groups finds the film remarkably relatable.
The dialogues falter in their impact, but they are hit home by the lively cast. Stoesser is the beating heart of the film, and you can see the range of emotions on his face as the film progresses. Besides Stoesser, it is Denning and Brooke Maroon, who plays Jennifer, who play their part with due diligence. All the characters, except Austin, however, have a very limited character arc, ultimately becoming mere stereotypes. Even Austin’s background is not so well etched out. But all of them come together under the director’s hood to pack the narrative with punch, making the actions feel effortless in the scope of the drama. The clothes these characters wear bear a harking resemblance to the 90s. The music packs in a punch too. It is a period piece that seeks to harp upon this nostalgia, for better or worse.
There is a pool of red fluid on the floor in the opening act. Is it blood, or is it spilled soft drink? Turbo Cola feels like a glass of cola that you drink first thing after returning home on a hot summer day. It is low-budget but has little fizz and is well-packed with substantial storytelling. It was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival and is available for streaming on VOD and in theatres in the US since 14th June 2022.