Humboldt County

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Posted September 24, 2008 in Film

Rigid UCLA med student Peter (Jeremy Strong) takes after his father, Professor Hadley (Peter Bogdanovich), a tightass with such a strict moral code, he threatens to fail his son and dash his top-tier residency. On the side of chaos is Bogart (Fairuza Balk, still with thick eyeliner and wild grin), a wanderer who kidnaps and abandons him (post-coital) at her adopted family’s shack in Northern California where parents Jack (Brad Dourif), Rosie (Frances Conroy), and everyone else down to her precocious niece Charity (Madison Davenport) rolls fat blunts. (The kid reads The Closing of the American Mind as a bedtime story.) Newbie writer-directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs are sharp enough to recognize that these aren’t hippies but woodspeople; their rebellion runs as deep as the roots of the surrounding redwoods. (In which they’ve planted dozens of marijuana plants.) Peter’s smoked-out transformation from sweater vests to ragged tees is quick, but the script deftly avoids outrageous slapstick: he tokes, leans back, and his face is slowly obliterated by the sun. He learns to shake free—nothing new there—but the film looks askance on both ways of life. The indie folk on the soundtrack teeters the film perilously close to another emo Gen-X flick about discovering who you really are, man, yet its quiet assurance hoists it to the top of the genre. The cast’s broad age gaps dilutes the late-twenties navel-gazing and the luminous Conroy has a several-minutes-long monologue about the death of a past lover during which the camera holds still on her face, soaking her in. How much disorder should an average life prescribe? Between establishment and freedom, freedom wins, but barely, and only by Grodsky and Jacobs forcing the issue in a naïve ending that doesn’t undercut this modest, insightful dramedy. (Amy Nicholson)

 


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