“Youth in Oregon”

A Road Trip

Amos Lassen

  In Joel David Moore’s dramedy “Youth in Oregon”, death plays a big part. about an elderly man, Raymond Engersol (Frank Langella), an elderly man takes a road trip to Oregon so he can be euthanized, yet the film remains so thematically opaque that death, in its finality and complications, never crystallizes into something palpable. At his 80th birthday dinner, he announced his plans to kill himself causing tension and characters talk and scream at, rather than to, one another. The result is a cacophony of emotions that unfortunately repeatedly stifle any deeper philosophical inquiries. The film then becomes a melodramatic observation of widespread familial dysfunction and the meaning of Raymond’s journey gets lost somewhere between his gripes and the family’s feeling that he will not follow through with his decision.

The quarreling comes from Raymond’s deceiving of his family since he chooses not to reveal that he is suffering from a terminal condition. There is a disconnect between the man’s headstrong choice and the family’s misguided reactions to it. We meet Raymond’s neurotic daughter, Kate (Christina Applegate), his drunken indifferent wife, Estelle (Mary Kay Place), his intensely frustrated son-in-law, Brian (Billy Crudup), whose job it is to drive ‘ Raymond around and convince him to change his mind while Kate stays home to deal with her daughter Annie (Nicola Peltz) and her own personal dramas. Since the characters do not have the ability to honestly cope with and understand Raymond’s personal decision, the audience are must listen to his the constant clamor. Raymond is a retired doctor who is unwilling to undergo heart surgery and would rather die. His family believes that he is healthy and they therefore feel that they the right to protest his decision. Instead of taking on euthanasia, subplots are introduced. One of these concerns Raymond visiting his estranged gay son, Danny (Josh Lucas).

When Raymond finally arrives in Oregon, he meets up with a longtime friend who’s also about to be euthanized. At this point there is a pause in the film so we can hear about the process by which the friend’s daughter prepares the lethal dose of medication while the two men share a tender, frank exchange. This is quite a touching, compassionate scene in how it approaches the subject of assisted suicide with the dignity and the pathos that it deserves, and it shows us what this film could have been.

Ray has had heart surgeries in the past, and he doesn’t want another one. He’s done his homework and found a doctor who will assist with the procedure and made travel arrangements. Of course, Estelle and Kate attempt to talk him out of it, while Brian doesn’t take any of it seriously. When it becomes clear that Ray is determined to see this through, Brian agrees to drive Ray and Estelle cross-country from New York to Oregon. Along the way, Brian begins to see a different side of his father-in-law, while Ray prepares for something that no one expects.

The film is both a dark drama, and a very bleak comedy. Assisted suicide is a very delicate subject, and must be handled in a special way. The movie gives us a character that wants to die and then it should make us understand why. When we learn that Ray’s doctor is suggesting another heart surgery and that Ray doesn’t want that, it’s not clear why he is choosing death. We see that a loving family surrounding him, which while not perfect, they are at least there. For whatever reason, the film makes Ray unlikable and we feel no sympathy for him. Instead we hope that he dies.

Then there is the overwritten screenplay. Instead of concentrating on assisted suicide, we get all kinds of subplots. Estelle is a budding alcoholic who also takes prescription drugs from family members. Annie is caught sending nude photos to her boyfriend. Kate and Brian’s other child is away at college and won’t return their calls. Kate’s brother (Josh Lucas) also has some skeletons in the closet that lead to a strained relationship with the family. Brian and Kate’s marriage is strained, and Ray is impotent.

This could have been a serious and sensitive look at assisted suicide and how it affects a family, but instead it is a lot of other things.

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