Youth in Oregon
Starring Frank Langella, Billy Crudup, Mary Kay Place, Christina Applegate, Josh Lucas, Alex Shaffer,
Actor turned director Joel David Moore’s film on the topic of legal human euthanasia isn’t the first of 2016 to cover such grounds. I point to Me Before You this past summer and of course the Oscar winning Amour in 2012. Moore (Savages, Avatar) directs the script by newcomer Andrew Eisen in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine or August Osage County, often focusing on the chaos of a family being ripped apart by the patriarch. Often outrageously funny, Youth in Oregon does have a problem balancing the brazen with sincere. The script is constructed as a road trip, which allows new members of the family to join the adventure constantly changing the dynamic.
“It’s my birthday and I can say what I want, and I want to die on my own terms,” an adamant Raymond Engersol (Langella) tells his family. What he isn’t telling his daughter Kate (Applegate), son-in-law Brian (Crudup), and wife Estelle (Place) is that he is dying already. Determined to get from New York to Oregon, where euthanasia is legal under qualifying circumstances, Raymond hires a car and says his goodbyes. Kate and her mother think he is bluffing, but finally Brian agrees to drive his in laws across country to get this idea out of his mind. While Kate stays home to deal with an expelled daughter, each mile closer to Oregon, the family worries Raymond will actually go through with his plan.
Scenes of comic relief pile up until we must face a moment of real drama and the subject matter isn’t prepared.
The film, like the family, doesn’t take Grandpa or the subject matter serious enough. Scenes of comic relief pile up until we must face a moment of real drama and the subject matter isn’t prepared. Langella maintains the stout, focused drama throughout as Crudup (perfectly cast) is the everyman trying to mediate the situation. The scene stealer is Place (I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Hollars) as the ambivalent, alcoholic mother. Typically relegated to some supporting role that doesn’t have weight, Place uses her comedic chops and subtle nuances to create a unique motherhood figure. When Josh Lucas (playing something different) and Alex Shaffer (Win Win) join the journey, the film continues to get more interesting.
“Do you know how many people his age that are dying that would love to spend more time with their family”. Youth in Oregon’s greatest asset is keeping the focus on the family rather than just the plight of Raymond. It often asks the viewer to put themselves in every character’s viewpoint. “You have no idea what it’s like to be with a man who would rather die than be with you,” Estelle says. The film feels like a cross country journey, despite all the interiors being shot in upstate New York. The ending isn’t quite what you might expect, but manages to create a conversation on the pros and cons of legal euthanasia.
A serious comedy about life and the choice of death.