Despite a bold subject matter that I can’t recall seeing addressed in previous films, Youth in Oregon still manages to end up feeling overly familiar and slightly derivative. Even with the choice to tackle a controversial topic, much of Youth in Oregon is by-the-numbers independent filmmaking. All of the usual tropes are dragged out, from family dysfunction to a revelatory road trip, and none are nearly as successful as they should be with a cast of this caliber.
The film begins by introducing us to the dysfunction of the Gleason household, as Brian (Billy Crudup) and Kate (Christina Applegate) struggle to raise their naïve teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) while also adjusting to having Kate’s parents live with them. 79-year-old Raymond (Frank Langella) is recovering from heart problems, which has diminished his quality of life and made him something of a stubborn curmudgeon. Despite the support from his daughter’s family and a loving younger wife (Mary Kay Place), Raymond decides to euthanize himself upon learning that his heart condition has worsened.
With no options in New York, Raymond resolves to travel to Oregon, where it is legal to be euthanized. Unable to drive himself, Brian is given the task of making the journey. Kate wants to be the one to drive him, but is preoccupied when their daughter suddenly demands attention after having her scandalous selfies shared around school by her inconsiderate jock boyfriend. This storyline just adds more unnecessary dysfunction to the family, which continues as the road trip includes stops along the way to pick up two more family members, each with father issues. Brian insists on stopping to see his son (Alex Shaffer) at college, only to discover that he has dropped out of school. Raymond also has a poor relationship with his homosexual son (Josh Lucas), who conveniently lives a reasonable driving distance from their destination and joins the road trip as the only one to agree with his father’s choice.
Although the discussion of chosen death is a topic that could have weighted this film with relevant dialogue, a majority of the screenplay is instead content to fall into the typical trappings of family dysfunction and road trip hijinks. Even when the scenes do tackle the subject at hand, the script never equals the ability of the performers. Langella is particularly great, but the script doesn’t develop the character of Raymond nearly enough to match his abilities. And the ultimate resolution of the topic at hand ends up feeling more like a copout than the buildup and brave premise promises. Even the tone of the film goes for crowd pleasing pleasantness rather than honest depictions, and the narrative ends up being forgettable as a result.
Far from terrible, Youth in Oregon is mostly a disappointing waste of potential. If nothing else, this movie proves that independent filmmaking has become a genre of its own, often just as generic as studio films. The DVD includes no special features.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10