By GRACE CULHANE
You may remember Joel David Moore from his bit roles as the scrawny guy in early-2000s comedies Dodgeball and Grandma's Boy. The Portland native has enjoyed a steady stream of small parts since then, but his new film is decidedly less goofy: a road comedy that focuses on the controversial practice of physician aid in dying (PAD), legal in Oregon and only a handful of other states.
Youth in Oregon follows 80-year-old Raymond Engersol (Frank Langella), a retired doctor who decides he wants to end his life, news that's met with shock and confusion by most of his family—if not by his pill-popping, vodka-quaffing wife, Estelle (Mary Kay Place). Raymond ropes his son-in-law Brian (Billy Crudup) into driving him from New York to Oregon for the appointment. No one in the family supports Raymond's decision to end his life, but then again, he hasn't told any of them just how bleak his prognosis is.
Much of Youth in Oregon hinges on this gap in knowledge, one of several plot points that viewers may have difficulty swallowing. Much like the pun in its title, the film's attempts to inject humor can feel forced. The curmudgeonly patriarch and straight man son-in-law schtick has been done before, as have the Viagra jokes and various drug-fueled road antics. While Place is a revelation as the boozy flirt of a grandma, the script relies so heavily on quirky family tropes that it tends to neglect the most compelling part of the equation: Raymond's excruciating decision and all the nuance and vulnerability Langella imbues it with.
Instead, the film's best moments emerge when the dialogue is sparse. Brian, Estelle and Raymond walk through a bird sanctuary in Wyoming, Raymond reconnects with his estranged son in Utah. When the script stops forcing the jokes and allows for these quiet, somber moments, the actors finally get to shine.
The chemistry of the supporting cast is strong, and along with Moore's ability to capture the hazy, sun-bleached beauty of the open road, it allows Youth in Oregon to pull off a near-impossible feat: a warm-hearted family road comedy about euthanasia. It may be a predictable ride, but it's still a charming one.
Critic's Rating: B
SEE IT: Youth in Oregon is not rated. It screens at 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 2, at Kiggins Theatre.