Youth in Oregon

This third installment in my six-months-late recap of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival is kind of a downer, but a good downer. There is such a thing, as it turns out, and it’s this movie, Youth in Oregon.

“The right to die” might not be your first choice for a scintillating movie subject, but it really worked here, and it’s a subject that should be covered in many forms, at the very least, to get people talking about it more comfortably. Frank Langella is Raymond, a spiky grandpa and former doctor with a terminal illness and a beautiful, complex face. He’s decided to end his life, but he can only do so in Oregon, where euthanasia is legal. His family, upon learning about the idea (through some heavy-handed exposition, just warning you), is of course passionately against the idea, but each member has his and her own significant ways of coping with it.

The casting is very accurate, especially considering how many recognizable faces appear in the film. Both Christina Applegate (Kate) and Josh Lucas (Danny) look like they could be the grown children of Langella and Mary Kay Place (Estelle), who is America’s mom if anyone asks, with their slightly-pursed mouths, their understated comedic timing, and their quiet melancholy.

Selfishness, and its many manifestations, creeps up as a theme. It’s an unavoidable byproduct of a family coping with one person’s big decision, since everyone inevitably reacts based on how Raymond’s death might affect them. As they process the information, though, the selfishness morphs into sacrifice, with priorities being reorganized and guards being let down. (There’s a road trip to Oregon, in case you were wondering.)

The more you see how peaceful the process could have been, and the more you realize how utterly draining it is for a family to experience death the way it “normally” happens, the easier it is to support “the right to die” as a movement. It’s humane, plain and simple. The author of the script (Andrew Eisen) and the director (Joel David Moore from Bones, whoa) clearly feel strongly about it, and they handled it delicately. They also chose gorgeous music to capture the emotions that the characters — and the audience, inevitably — are experiencing. Joel P. West provided the score, and I found Steven McMorran’s song at the end of the film particularly moving.

I hope we see more stories like this one, which confront “uncomfortable” topics with dignity and care. Fiction can be just as powerful as fact when it comes to reversing a taboo.

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