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Turning On, Dropping Out
HUMBOLDT COUNTY: Written and directed by Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs. Cinematography, Ernest Holzman. Starring Fairuza Balk, Peter Bogdanovich, Frances Conroy, Brad Dourif, Jeremy Strong. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. R. 97 minutes.
Fail medical school and miss out on a residency? Hey, no worries, head out of L.A. with your first one-night stand (Fairuza Balk) and end up in paradise, or at least that county in Northern California where gorgeous beaches and marijuana farms abound.
Humboldt County takes a straight-laced youth, Peter (Jeremy Strong, in a terrific homage to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate), and puts him in an uncomfortable situation as he flees his overbearing father (Peter Bogdanovich). Peter’s journey to self-awareness begins with an over-the-top scene of Wacky! Pot! Farmers! that hurts the early minutes of the movie.
But things improve rapidly as Peter, who’s lost his girl and can’t seem to escape Humboldt County, starts relaxing (yes, you know just how that occurs). Other characters emerge, and Peter soon finds himself emotionally involved with the volatile Max (Chris Messina) and Max’s daughter (Madison Davenport) and parents Rosie (Frances Conroy) and Jack (Brad Dourif). Unexpected plot turns sweeten and sharpen the movie, and Dourif and Conroy anchor several epiphanies. Only the last scene proves disappointingly clichéd, but by that time, you’ll probably feel generous enough to accept it. If not, you’ll know how to relax and enjoy anyway.