2008, R, 97 min. Directed by Darren Grodsky, Danny Jacobs. Starring Jeremy Strong, Fairuza Balk, Peter Bogdanovich, Frances Conroy, Chris Messina, Brad Dourif, Madison Davenport.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 26, 2008
In a perfect world, childhood friends and Humboldt County co-directors/writers Grodsky and Jacobs would be at the forefront of a cinematic revolution that would blast wide the doors of onscreen unself-consciousness and herald the return of some seriously deep, green, sticky-sweet American introspective filmmaking. Alas, the world is ever more imperfect, and of late we've seen everything from Zach Braff's smart heartache Garden State to the Duplass Brothers' paranoiac love song Baghead attempt to define what it means to be young and free in a world that seems, day by day, moment by moment, increasingly old and shackled and utterly, irreversibly mad. Certainly no one has graduated to within striking distance of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, much less Hal Ashby or even Roger Corman's countercultural biker broadsides. But the green, unassuming beauty of Humboldt County comes seditiously close and manages it with less histrionics, fewer obvious plot twists, and more sublime, generation-spanning performances than most anything outside of the real Humboldt County, Calif. (America's No. 1 producer of marijuana, medical and otherwise, should you wonder). Strong plays an emotionally gut-shot med-school washout who is cast adrift, aloft, and ultimately alive by an extended, cannabis-farming family led by genre stalwart Dourif and Six Feet Under's Conroy. His screen debut is one of the most genuinely affecting twentysomething touchstones since Benjamin Braddock went off the deep end. High praise indeed, but he's buoyed by a terrific ensemble cast (Bogdanovich surprises; Balk, as ever, entices), and his slow-burn turn makes a devastating case for the path least expected. His Hippocratic character, shorn of scalpel and in desperate need of a lifeline, recalls Bud Cort's moribund Harold in Harold and Maude. They're both maudlin, dire, and borderline necktie parties, and they both represent their respective decades. But Humboldt County's doleful charm – verdant, lovely, ominous, final – leaves little room for idealistic dreams or even the promise of romantic redemption. People, places, and things are broken here, and a pall hangs over every stoned smile. It's like the Sixties never happened, or maybe happened too much. (Humboldt County had its world premiere at the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival.)