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We all eventually face a singular inescapable truth. Knowing we as a person are finite, it’s not easy for many to think about our own mortality. Raymond Engersol (Frank Langella), at 80-years-old, faces such a truth. Having suffered a heart attack a few years back, he and his wife Estelle (Mary Kay Place) have moved into their daughter Kate’s (Christina Applegate) house, along with her husband Brian (Billy Crudup) and their teenaged daughter Annie (Nicola Peltz). Dysfunctional at best, the household is a curious rollercoaster ride as mixed generations try to co-exist.
At Ray’s latest doctor’s appointment, he learns that his condition has worsened and even with surgery, he will pass. Deciding not to tell his family, he instead makes an announcement at his birthday dinner that he has hired a driver and will return to his home state, Oregon, where legal euthanasia offers him his best chance to end his life. But, as circumstances shift, it turns out that Brian ends up the driver, and so the two men and Estelle take a road trip, with Brian thinking the passing miles will curb his father-in-law’s intention, however time and conversation don’t always make it easy to bring everyone together.
Directed by Joel David Moore, Youth in Oregon, aside from the clever title, is ostensibly a road movie that, and like any in the genre, is all about bonding and character arcs, using the prospect of death as the catalyst to inspire such. However, tonal shifts and some curious writing make for both powerful but also many awkward and unsatisfying moments that leave the film often unconvincing.
The positives begin with Langella, who is a great presence throughout, despite some lapses in the script that let him down. He takes to the role with great conviction and his natural on-screen irascible personality make him perfect for the part. Playing a retired doctor, he knows the reality of his situation, and as the film progresses, he takes to mending fences and healing old wounds, including with his estranged gay son, Danny (Josh Lucas).
Others perform well, too, with Crudup doing his best with what he’s given, but the film stumbles with many of its attempts to pad the story with unnecessary emotional subplots and uncomfortable humor. From Annie’s relationship with her boyfriend that tries to pack some punch with a modern dilemma to Danny and his perceived issues to Estelle herself, who is a bundle of eccentricities that never really define her rather than create artificial barriers.
All of these and more leave the screenplay a disappointing ordeal of obvious melodrama that can’t seem to reach the highs and lows it strives for, dipping only slightly into a number themes that aren’t deeply dealt with. Admittedly, there are a some good moments, most notably in the last act when Ray meets a friend facing a similar situation. This extended sequence is in fact the film’s strongest point and is handled very well, delivering a stirring, breathlessly human moment that only proves how much better the overall experience might have been.
Youth in Oregon is a film of missed opportunities, with a plucky soundtrack that manipulates and a story that strips away a more compelling understanding of the central premise. While it features an outstanding performance from Langella, it veers too far into the obvious, playing tragically close to cutesy, with filmmakers clearly afraid to take this to the real emotional depths it promises.
Movie description: Youth in Oregon is a 2017 drama about a man who drives his father-in-law across country to end his life, while along the way discovering reason for staying aliv
Director(s): Joel David Moore
Actor(s): Frank Langella, Nicola Peltz, Christina Applegate, Billy Crudup
Genre: Drama, Comedy