Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 4, 2017)
In the vein of Little Miss Sunshine with more death involved, 2016’s Youth in Oregon looks at an unusual road trip. Elderly Raymond Engersol (Frank Langella) finds himself in failing health, so he schedules his own assisted suicide.
The challenge: this event will take place in Oregon but he lives in New York. As such, Raymond needs to make a trip, and his daughter Kate (Christina Applegate) enlists her husband Brian (Billy Crudup) to help.
Not that Kate wants her dad to die, of course – she hopes that Brian can use the extended road trek to change Raymond’s mind. With Raymond’s saucy wife Estelle (Mary Kay Place) also along for the ride, we follow this journey and the issues that arise on the way.
Best-known as an actor in flicks like Avatar, Oregon marks Joel David Moore’s third feature-length directorial effort, and his second to focus on death-related subjects. 2014’s Killing Winston Jones offered more of a black comedy than Oregon, but one still starts to wonder what prompts Moore to concentrate on the demise of elderly men so heavily.
Whatever prompts this fascination, Oregon creates a somewhat disjointed effort, mainly in terms of tone. The film attempts a blend of comedy and drama that never quite works.
This creates a mix of jarring juxtapositions. One minute the film engages in broad shtick after Brian ingests some “pep pills”, and then the next we get Raymond’s heartfelt remembrance of old friends who passed.
Perhaps a more skilled filmmaker equipped with a tighter script might pull off these shifts, but Moore can’t do it. This means Oregon feels like a loosely-knit collection of scenes that don’t manage to coalesce into a coherent whole.
On the positive side, the actors handle their fairly thin parts well, especially because they resist temptations to embrace broad comedy. Raymond easily could become a cartoon curmudgeon, and Estelle could turn into a silly “naughty granny” sort, but they get dignity and depth due to the performances.
At its heart, Oregon could deliver an insight treatise on age, dying and family relationships, but it lacks the meaning and depth to go where it should. While the cast adds life to the material, the end result feels awkward and spotty too much of the time.