Film festivals have come to know and love the sub-genre of raw dysfunctional family dramedy. Joel David Moore has added yet another film to the increasingly popular sub-genre with Youth in Oregon. Perhaps best known for his acting roles in Avatar and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Moore has already directed three shorts and a feature film, and has another one currently in post-production. Do his acting talents translate well into directing? Not really.
Youth in Oregon is a funny, sweet and sometimes depressing film that does not seem to achieve its end goals — whatever they may be. Frank Langella gives another quietly reserved performance as a man who wants to drive to Oregon to be legally euthanized after chronic heart problems. Since he does not like to fly, his son-in-law and his wife join him on the car trip there. His two children and grandchildren eventually join them along the way as they try to come together as an estranged family.
Although Langella gives another beautiful performance, Billy Crudup seems to carry the film on his shoulders as the affectionate, hair-brained father. His success is woven throughout his versatile role, deftly changing from a frustrated, angry son-in-law to a neurotic man hopped up on vyvanse. The other cast members try to do the most with their relatively one-dimensional roles, wasting most of their talents along the way. Relying on tropes to fill up the rest of the roles, we see Mary Kay Place play Langella’s alcoholic wife and Alex Shaffer takes on the stereotypical angsty art student.
The main fault lies with the script, which never finds the right balance as a dysfunctional family dramedy. We never truly get a good backstory on the relationship between the family members, especially the broken ones like between Nick and his father and Raymond and Estelle. Some flashbacks might have been useful to round out these rough edges in the script. The screenwriter, Andrew Eisen, appears to have ignored these gaping holes in the script by banking too much on the overused trope of dysfunctional families. Every family has problems, right? Eisen seems to think that there’s no need to explain what those problems are and why they started.
These faults in the script continue into the broad scope of Youth in Oregon. Eisen conveys no real message or purpose of the film. Sure, he wanted audiences to laugh and cry, and the script is occasionally able to pull that off. But what did he want us to come out of the theater thinking? Should we respect the practice of euthanasia? Should we not? Was it about family, about death, about life? Eisen definitely tries to leave audiences with some message, but it doesn’t quite come across very clear. Perhaps he is just simply conveying this slightly biographical story, but there needed to be some clear theme behind it.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Youth in Oregon is a worthwhile movie for the performances and surprising amount of humor, but that is not enough to solve its lack of heart and meaning conveyed by a meandering script. Although it is not a necessarily bad addition to the bloated genre of dysfunctional family dramedies, Eisen’s lack of purpose will sometimes make audiences question why they sat through two hours of light humor and melodramatic family problems.