Way up towards the northern tip of California, there’s a place known as “The Lost Coast.” It’s a beautiful, dreamy place that combines the majestic beauty of the redwoods with the foggy nuances of the ocean. The county this lost coast resides in is Humboldt and the mere mention of that to any stoner will undoubtedly bring an illegal smile to his or her face. Yeah, the major source of income in Humboldt is marijuana and it’s also the setting for the warm and multi-layered film “Humboldt County.”
The basic premise of “Humboldt County” is one we’ve all seen before. A young man named Peter (Strong) is set on a career path, in this case he’s a medical student, yet he’s unsure this is what he really wants to do with himself. He begins to question the choices he’s made and where his life is going. After an improbable hookup with flaky hottie Bogart (Balk) Peter falls asleep in her truck and when he wakes up, he finds himself on her parents pot farm in Humboldt. The fish out of water scenario is palpable as the buttoned tight Peter is thrust into the lackadaisical, stoner world of the pot farmers and, once again as we’ve seen before, he starts to let loose and discover a little bit about himself. Yet for all the familiarity in “Humboldt County” there’s an underlying truth about people and the decisions they make that comes shining through. Plus the acting is outstanding and the film itself is beautifully shot.
Brad Dourif as the paternal figure Jack seems to be hitting a golden age in his career. While still seemingly unable to say “no” to any offered role, his work on “Deadwood” as Doc Cochran was instantly classic and here as a physics professor turned pot farmer he turns in another well defined performance as a man conflicted both internally and within the life he’s chosen for himself. Another excellent performance in the film is handed in by Chris Messina as Jack’s “son” Max. Messina does a good job playing the sort of, cranky workaholic who has a lot more to him than meets the eye. I’ve never seen Messina before but he’s got a screen presence that makes you take notice and he really shines in this role. Also terrific are Frances Conroy (who belts out an incredible, smoky torch song mid-film that is breathtaking) as the maternal figure Rosie and young Madison Davenport as Max’s daughter Charity turns in some sweet yet heartfelt moments as well.
As I said, “Humboldt County” does have a little-too-familiar plot structure and there were a couple of moments story-wise that I really didn’t dig. However the characters are so well defined, the acting so top-notch and the cinematography so stunning, I was able to forgive what I saw as script issues. “Humboldt County” is just the type of small film that, if given a chance to be seen by audiences, could become somewhat of a hit for grownups ala “Sideways” or “The Squid and the Whale.”