Humboldt County

Humboldt County

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.)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Humboldt County
The Coast of Utopia
The Coast of Utopia
'Humboldt County'

Marc Savlov, March 7, 2008

More Jeremy Strong Films
Matthew McConaughey's beach thriller drowns in red herrings

Kimberley Jones, Jan. 25, 2019

Molly's Game
Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut plays a high stakes game with Jessica Chastain

Josh Kupecki, Dec. 22, 2017

More by Marc Savlov
Black Mother
A hypnotic and all-encompassing glimpse into Jamaican life

April 12, 2019

The Best of Enemies
Unlikely alliances grow as conversation finds common ground in this historical true-life drama

April 5, 2019


Humboldt County, Darren Grodsky, Danny Jacobs, Jeremy Strong, Fairuza Balk, Peter Bogdanovich, Frances Conroy, Chris Messina, Brad Dourif, Madison Davenport

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle