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Youth in Oregon
I really didn't intentionally make Frank Langella a common thread in two of my last three standard definition DVD reviews. But the case handler in The Americans finds himself the unwanted center of attention in Youth in Oregon, a comedy-drama that is copious amounts of one genre and perhaps not enough of the other.
Written by Andrew Eisen and directed by Joel David Moore (Spiral), Langella plays Raymond, an 80-year old patriarch who lives with his daughter Kate (Christina Applegate, Bad Moms) and her family, along with his wife Estelle (Mary Kay Place, Sweet Home Alabama). He makes the decision to be legally euthanized in Oregon, and would like to be driven there to do so, and makes this announcements on his 80th birthday. Kate makes sure that her husband/Raymond's son in law Brian (Billy Crudup, Watchmen) is the one to do it. Brian has been distant from Ray in the past which isn't a surprise since Ray's a bit of a grouch, but the hopes are in this cross-country drive that Ray can be talked of it.
The movie sets itself up early on, practically screams it out, to be a road movie, throwing characters with conflicting sensibilities into a confined space, and betting on the fact that dialogue of benefit comes from it. It's such an easy premise to sell, it makes it all the more amazing why Youth in Oregon didn't pull it off. Raymond's declaration that he's going to Oregon to kill himself is met with not a lot of stereotypical surprise. His wife likes the fermented grape and continues to indulge at dinner, and people are wondering when the amuse bouche is getting to the table for dinner. This was done early on in the movie that a dynamic for the family members hadn't really been established. So when Ray makes this proclamation, it's to a bunch of strangers both to us and apparently their reactions.
Moreover, the film purports to be a comedy-drama, but its comedic moments are telegraphed and not particularly funny, and when they are employed to diffuse an emotionally tense moment, are done poorly to no laughs. So the movie focuses more on a dramatic level and the result is a mixed bag at best. Raymond's story arc starts strong, gets a little strange when his son Danny (Josh Lucas, Hulk) gets introduced to the film, as it does when his grandson/Brian's son Nick (Alex Shaffer, Win Win) gets thrown into the mix. They are needless distractions and sources of conflict, and while it's understandable why they were thrown in, they were redundant to the existing conflicts among the family and just weren't necessary.
As to the guy carrying the story on his back from the East Coast to Cascadia, Langella is decent, though he does have an epiphany of sorts that once expressed, gets a little unbelievable considering what the viewer knows about Raymond. Granted, one could make the case that there were moments where Raymond was unknowingly coming to this moment on his own (for the sake of spoilers I'll steer clear of it), but I don't buy it. Langella's scenes with Place are good and she's fine in her role, but the third person in the car is Crudup and he doesn't show off the emotional range that would make the viewer relate to this journey. Applegate was the heart of the pair and wasn't put in the car because of well, I'm still not sure why, despite its explanation.
I wanted to give Youth in Oregon a chance, but the story and lack of heavy lifting among some of the significant members of the cast didn't give me much of a reason to. Sure, I liked watching Langella with this character and given a better script I think he could do better with it; I think he's got a third act series of characters that could make his continued good work even better. But at the end of the day, the film manages to err on a foolproof cinematic formula, and it's disappointing.The Disc:
Sony presents Youth in Oregon with an anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that looks quite nice. Ross Riege (The Kings of Summer) handled the cinematography and this film looks great, with the Pacific Northwest forestry looking very good, as do some of the scenes driving across the country, particularly a magic hour shot across the interstate. Darker lit moments also look good with minimal crushing and flesh tones appear natural also, with nary a hint of edge enhancement or DNR that I noticed.The Sound:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track doesn't get a lot to do, save for a moment when Brian is driving under the influence of…no doze? Uppers? Whatever it is, you get some eclectic tunes to it that pulse through the satellites, and even include a dusting of low end fidelity. Most of the feature is dialogue-driven and sounds fine in the front of the theater without any hissing or drop-offs. Sounds about what you'd expect it to be.Extras:
Giving a guy like Frank Langella a chance to explore larger themes of mortality in roles is something I could get used to. However, I'd prefer to do it in better stories than the one which unfolded in Youth in Oregon, as the family was poorly constructed and the subsequent story underachieved. Technically, the disc's transfer is excellent and sound was good, and the lack of extras was disappointing but not surprising. I'd give it a look if you're a fan of Frank the Tank.