Phoenix, Oregon is a vast improvement on the Grown Ups formula. Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2 were fuelled by seemingly harmless ideas of nostalgia and friendships, but the movies were made disingenuously by the egos of their cast. Phoenix, Oregon, on the other hand, isn’t wired to be smug. Instead of the story solely rooting itself in the past and being self-congratulatory, memories are used as reference points to fuel aspirations to make more memories.
The film’s leading schlub, Bobby (James Le Gros), can’t shake his reservations for relationships, but he doesn’t live in a stupor. He’s a talented illustrator who quietly works on a graphic novel, and his personal history has convinced him that living an uneventful existence will guarantee he won’t be hurt again. He receives motivational momentum by his buddy Carlos (Jesse Borrego), a cook who works alongside Bobby in a restaurant. Similar to Bobby, Carlos is inspired by the mundane qualities in his life, but in a different way. The foodie wants to take a chance on re-opening a local bowling alley, where he would be the head chef and Bobby – a former bowler and local sport legend – could manage the business. Bobby, reluctant at first but also wanting to seize the day, decides to strike with Carlos.
Phoenix, Oregon is an encouraging underdog tale of friends embarking on a new chapter together. Although the film is light on a traditional plot, writer/director Gary Lundgren establishes hurdles for Bobby and Carlos that contribute towards the battle for their self-affirmation. These include intimidating confrontations with an old boss (Diedrich Bader) and a testy technician (Kevin Corrigan), to more risky financial decisions like Bobby gambling his mother’s inheritance on a new life. The latter is the most predictable complication (the out-of-town investor gives off immediate bad energy). And unfortunately, this is the primary hurdle the film’s narrative is controlled by. But with healthy humour and natural optimism pitched by Lundgren and his actors, movie goers are distracted away from any impending gloom. Phoenix, Oregon is a great example of how heartfelt characters can be the key to perseverance.
It’s so easy for filmmakers to automatically interpret folksy happiness into sarcastic knocks on goodnatured enthusiasm, which is why the purity of Phoenix, Oregon is so nice to go along with – it’s definitely a prime contender for the feel-good movie of the year.
Purchase an online ticket for Phoenix, Oregon through its “Theatrical-at-Home” program, and support a movie theatre or a film festival.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie