Thursday, March 26, 2009

California Dreamin'

Awash in the homesickness that goes hand in hand with enduring a frostbitten New York winter, I have been yearning for a hiatus from the snow, a vacay from the oppressive winds constantly blowing my hair in my mouth, an escape from my dark little bug infested basement apartment where I don’t even get cell reception. The inimitable Tom Robbins says: “weather should be either celebrated or ignored,” and I couldn’t agree more, but truth be told I’m better at celebrating than ignoring and thus, it is hard to cope with the entirely uncelebratory weather. However, in an attempt to ignore the cold, I decided to flee to the comparatively balmy homeland of Northern California at least on a mental plane by watching Humbolt County.

The film follows Peter, a neurotic and sheltered UCLA medical student (portrayed by the oddly wooden Jeremy Strong) who – after studying for three days – fails his final exam, which is proctored by his father (Peter Bogdanovich) and winds up having a one-night-stand with a free spirited singer Bogart (Fairuza Balk) who drives up the coast to her home of Humboldt county while Peter is passed out from exhaustion in the passenger’s seat. Upon awakening he finds himself in an entirely mystical, secluded realm of redwood trees, pot groves and stunning headlands. The beautiful familiarity of the locale was almost too much for me!

After a few days of trying to leave Humboldt to return to his formative life, Peter decides to stay for a while as he grows closer to Bogart’s far out surrogate family, including her iconoclast adoptive father Jack (skillfully played by Brad Douriff), perma-stoned adoptive mother Rosie (Frances Conroy) and their son Max (played by the handsome Chris Messina), a cynical, flawed but deeply human pot grower and single father who becomes Peter’s close friend. From here, the story follows a fairly conventional route as uptight Peter – who previously never thought life had anything to offer beyond becoming a doctor – learns to appreciate a new way of life and lets go of his preconceived notions.

This all sounds pretty trite and clich├ęd, I’ll admit. But what redeems this movie is the strong character development. Apart from Peter himself (who I found the weakest of the bunch), each role is well written and skillfully acted and resultantly the film is full of nuanced, relatable dialogue and characters. Also, while writer/director team Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs certainly depict these Northern Californians in a positive light, they avoid idealizing them or their lifestyle. Instead, each of the oddballs Peter encounters is mired and lost in their own personal disconnect from reality just as much as Peter is himself. Additionally, Bogdanovich’s role as Peter’s hardened father is humanized rather than condemned for being straight and narrow. Ultimately the film does not suggest that one way of life is better than another, but instead urges its viewers to follow their own path, rather than feeling confined to a predetermined one.

My least favorite part of the film (without giving too much away) comes at the end when we learn that Max suffers from an as-yet-unmentioned drinking problem. For the sake of tying up all the lose ends, this development fit neatly into the film but seemed out of place in terms of Max’s already well established character. Thus, this alcoholic add-on and its subsequent repercussions on the overall plot seemed tacked on and forced. In short, this isn’t a brilliant film – it’s not going to blow your mind or change the way you live your life – but it’s well done and entirely enjoyable. In particular, Messina’s performance really shines. I'd recommend Humboldt County to all, but highly recommend it to Northern Californians, especially those who are currently stuck on the bloody East Coast dreaming of their beloved homeland.

1 comment:

  1. ...And now it's warm again. Does this mean your complaints have the power to change the weather?