An uptight, unhappy medical student burdened by his uncaring father’s (Peter Bogdanovich) expectations, Peter (Jeremy Strong) is a thin indie archetype in Humboldt County. And the fact that he undergoes a transformative awakening during his unexpected stay in an unusual environment—here, a Northern California pot-farming community he’s brought to by one-night stand Bogart (Fairuza Balk)—is a routinely conventional situation. Directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs’s film is a self-conscious throwback to ‘70s character-driven dramas, utilizing warm widescreen panoramas, a patient rhythm and a generosity of spirit to investigate Peter’s rebirth amid marijuana plants and the earthy kooks who nurture them. A tale rooted in the generational clash between the late-‘60s hippie counterculture and the buttoned-down present, Peter’s budding friendship with Jack (Brad Dourif), his wife Rosie (Frances Conroy) and their son Max (Chris Messina) nominally concerns the war on drugs but largely generates tension through Peter and Max’s issues with their overbearing/negligent daddies. Unfortunately, this friction is of a schematic sort that all too often seems mainly intent on recalling spiritual predecessors Midnight Cowboy and Five Easy Pieces. Taking cues from the likes of Bob Rafelson leaves the film with a strong sense of human interest, yet Peter’s evolution is so bluntly telegraphed by his fish-out-of-water circumstances that it drains any surprise from the story’s destination, which unwisely includes a last-act tragedy that’s not only unnecessary as a device to further Peter’s maturation but too neatly provides poignant thematic parallels. Strong’s portrayal of Peter, a less complex ancestor of The Graduate‘s Benjamin Braddock, is largely defined by confused, hollow stares and anxious face scrunches that reduce his protagonist’s emotional turmoil to stock affectations, and stand in stark contrast to the natural, soulful turns by Conroy and Dourif, who supplies weathered gravity to Jack’s dawning realization that tree-hugging utopianism comes with a heavy price. Far more than Peter, it’s his paterfamilias who deserved the brunt of Grodsy and Jacobs’s character-study concentration.
- Magnolia Pictures
- 96 min
- Darren Grodsky, Danny Jacobs
- Darren Grodsky, Danny Jacobs
- Jeremy Strong, Brad Dourif, Frances Conroy, Chris Messina, Madison Davenport, Peter Bogdanovich, Fairuza Balk
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