Portland director James Westby’s Rid of Me is targeted very narrowly at a certain audience, and you will know whether you are part of it from the very first scene, in which Storm Large is attacked by a vagina. To be precise, a righteously pissed-off Katie O’Grady reaches into her jeans and smears a daub of menstrual blood across the diva’s cheek. If you find this sequence amusingly brazen, and gain double enjoyment as you remember that Westby directed the music video for Large’s pussy-power ode “8 Miles Wide,” you are that audience. If you aren’t especially charmed by the taboo-busting aggression (or, worse, if you’re wondering, “Who is Storm Large?”), this movie does not want to play with you.
Rid of Me makes cliques of its subject, and becomes a demonstration of the exclusionary tendencies it condemns. Its setup is a bald (and mostly effective) baiting of anti-suburban sentiment. O’Grady plays the mortifyingly deferential Meris Canfield, who moves with hubby Mitch (John Keyser) from California to his childhood hamlet of Laurelwood, Ore., (it’s actually the Portland neighborhood of Multnomah Village). Meris is reviled by her husband’s band of bros and their harpy wives, and she’s haunted by the horror-movie specter of Briann (Large), who knows what she and Mitch did many summers ago, and would like to do it some more. Cue rejection, humiliation and a new crew of pals bearing life-saving leather and eyeliner, along with the ability to vomit on command.
I admired Westby’s previous pictures, Film Geek and The Auteur, where he celebrated a similar outsider outrageousness, and I don’t mind that Rid of Me is telling a creation myth of Portland’s alterna-culture. It’s Fugitives and Refugees: The Movie. This isn’t a bad idea, but the execution is slapdash and not very attuned to actual human behavior. Mitch’s pals aren’t just snobby squares—they’re racist squares who suborn cheating and toss footballs through the kitchen. (This last trait might be a tribute to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but I’m afraid it’s how Westby thinks jocks actually behave.) Meris’ new consorts, who include a sleepy Art Alexakis, are not much more carefully drawn. Maybe the problem is me: As a five-year Portlander, I feel more simpatico with movies like Cold Weather that address a less brash wave of Oregon immigrants. But that such a tiny distinction matters is a sign that Rid of Me is a highly insular project. It knows who it wants to be for, but not what it wants to be.
45 SEE IT: Rid of Me opens Thursday at Living Room Theaters.