Bringing in such a heavy, dramatic turn in a comedic character study such as this is something that needs to be finessed in, not hammered. Lundgren plays things heavy-handed, so it is more awkward than anything.
While these problems are considerable and may turn off some viewers entirely, Phoenix, Oregon ultimately winds up working. Despite the repetitive nature of some scenes, the dialogue is good. There’s a subtlety to what is being said and how that puts the audience at ease. The banter is often quite funny, in that unassuming, naturalistic kind of way. Plus, the characters, yes even Al, are believable and engaging. Bobby’s arc rings true, especially if you are that age and having a mid-life crisis, or already been through one. And, aside from the ending twist (is that the right word?), the story meanders about, forcing nothing, perfectly content to let the viewer observe these characters as opposed to making them conform to an arbitrary plot.
“…the real saving grace of the film is its cast.”
However, the real saving grace of the film is its cast. Le Gros has been a character actor for years, and it’s lovely to see him take a full-blown leading role. He’s magnificent and ably makes every action Bobby takes make absolute sense; even when he’s being a bit of a jerk. Borrego, as Carlos, is also fantastic. He imbues his highfalutin, exacting chef (he makes his pizza dough from scratch every day) with a warm, hopeful optimism. He and Le Gros make for a believable pair of lifelong pals and easily elevate the movie beyond its simple means.
Edelstein, who is probably most well-known for her role on House, is just as good. In a scene reassuring that her client’s check will come through, she’s calm, collected, and easily assuages the others of their fears (said check does arrive). Corrigan, despite issues with his character’s writing, is great as Al. Heis rapid-fire and angry delivery works well and generates some huge laughs. Diedrich Bader is terrific as the fun to hate terrible, selfish boss.
Phoenix, Oregon stumbles when it enters its third act, and some scenes feel repetitive. But, Lundgren’s easygoing direction and the witty, unpretentious script is populated with likable and interesting characters. And those people are wonderfully brought to life be a perfect cast that elevates the film beyond its flaws and modest aim to something worth watching.
"…a rather sweet, unassuming affair..."