‘Youth in Oregon’ is a tough but worthwhile watch

Frank Langella in ‘Youth in Oregon’

“My ultimate aim is to make euthanasia a positive experience” – Jack Kevorkian

“Raymond Engersol” (Frank Langella – Robot & Frank, Frost/Nixon) is an eighty-something retired physician who survived open-heart surgery.  But as a result of that surgery he and his wife “Estelle” (Mary Kay Place – The Rainmaker, Being John Malkovich) were forced to move in with their daughter “Kate Gleason” (Christina Applegate – Bad Moms, The Rocker), her husband “Brian Gleason” (Billy Crudup – Jackie, 20th Century Women ) and their daughter “Annie” (Nicola Peltz – The Last Airbender).

Now he’s been told by his cardiologist that he needs another operation and there is a good chance he won’t survive the surgery.  But without it he will die in relatively short order.  Raymond decides he will not have the surgery and plans to go home to Oregon where assisted suicide is legal.

Kate is completely opposed to the idea, especially the part of the plan where Raymond plans to have a paid driver at the wheel for the journey by auto to Oregon.  She and the rest of the family, unaware of Raymond’s newest health problems; believe that any Oregon doctor would examine him, find him fit and therefore ineligible for assisted suicide.  But she plans to drive him there herself, figuring she can convince him to turn around and go home before they are even halfway across the country.

Mary Kay Place, Frank Langella, Billy Crudup and Josh Lucas in ‘Youth in Oregon’

A completely contrived circumstance prevents her from doing this herself and Brian ultimately volunteers to take the wheel.  With the dutiful drinking and pill-popping Estelle in the back seat, they are off.  Along the way they will stop off and see Brian and Kate’s son “Nick” (Alex Shaffer) and Kate’s brother “Danny” (Josh Lucas – Glory Road, Stolen) and both will climb into the vehicle for the rest of the journey to Oregon.

While this tri-generation family setting is the perfect recipe for the ultimate in dysfunction, the makers of the movie shouldn’t have had to resort to the concocted plot points needed to put the players in the positions needed to send the travelers on their trip.  Frank Langella is a treasure in front of a camera and his talents deserved a better, less obviously manipulated story.  The acting chops of the rest of the cast are mostly wasted by weak dialogue and storytelling.

The plot twists that arise in the movie’s last moments are fairly ordinary and predictable, but that makes them no less effective in demonstrating how difficult it is for families to deal with impending loss of loved ones.  There are few topics that are as controversial as assisted suicide as our legal and moral systems struggle to deal with the trend of euthanasia becoming more acceptable.

Humor is used with sparing effectiveness throughout and the backstory involving Raymond’s estrangement from his son adds nuance and subtext at just the right moment.  Any cross-country road trip movie must have great scenic shots and there are enough of these to make this movie a treat for the eyes.

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