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Chill Out, Man!
by Martin Malloy on Sep 26, 2008
First time writers and directors Danny Jacobs and Darren Grodsky paint a beautiful portrait of a seemingly real life Garden of Eden, where those of us fed up with the struggles of the everyday escape to be free. It just so happens that this idyllic place is Northern Californiaís Humboldt County, the pot smoking capitol of the country. But this isnít just another weed movie filled with one liners from stoners. No, this is a film about the glaring truths of life and taking the good with the bad.
Itís the story of Peter Hadley (Jeremy Strong), who is paralyzed by life as a Los Angeles medical student, only to find himself deep in Humboldt County following a one night stand with the beautiful seductress Bogart (Fairuza Balk). Bogart takes Peter to her familyís cabin and the uptight Peter is uncomfortably surrounded by hippie pot farmers -- and engulfed in smoke. The next morning Peter realizes Bogart has abandoned him (which is, apparently, common for her) and he needs to find a way home. Slowly, though, Peter lets down his guard and embraces these people, forgetting about his troubles back in LA as he begins to really find some time to figure out who he is and what he wants.
What's so truly amazing about this film is that every aspect of it is really astonishing. From the acting to the cinematography to the music -- it's all perfect. Yes, itís the oldest story in the book: young man has wake up call that causes him to do some soul searching. But Jacobs and Grodsky do it in such a way that makes it all seem so new and exciting. Jeremy Strong is enthralling as Peter -- guy who is so bottled up that he can barely move. Even his walk his awkward and God forbid he has to actually speak to anyone, even in normal conversation. But Bogartís family represents the complete opposite of his rigid upbringing (by his father played by Peter Bogdanovich in a great, yet subdued cameo) and heís able to finally open up.
The patriarch, Jack (Brad Dourif), is an ex-UCLA Physics professor who, in true hippie fashion, dropped everything in search of a simpler and more rewarding life. He brought along his endearing, yet spacey wife Rosie (Frances Conroy) who enjoys planning her colonization of Mars, their son Max (Chris Messina), the quintessential, young Humboldt pot farmer and Maxís daughter, Charity (Madison Davenport), who despite being in grade school and constantly surrounded by marijuana smoke is sharp, bright and embodying the innocence of youth.
All these characters, despite being perpetually stoned, are completely endearing and incredibly complex. What Peter comes to realize is that these people arenít without their own faults and troubles -- theyíre just lucky enough to have found their place in this world. It would take too much time to do justice to each one of these actors. I was truly dumbfounded at how great they all were. I canít imagine this film without every single one of them.
The film also looks exquisitely. Jacobs and Grodsky made a crucial decision in choosing Ernest Holzman as cinematographer. It appears that Holzman is a veteran of television and hasnít really forged a path into feature films. Well, hereís his ticket. Also iZLER, who used to be a songwriter for Robbie Williams, does a masterful job at creating an original score that not only captures the exact mood of the film, but actually creates it. Forget the Garden State soundtrack, this is the how to score a film. Itís incredibly relieving to find such a great film from such newcomers. Itís no exaggeration when I say this is definitely one of the best films of the year.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
by Martin Malloy on Sep 26, 2008