As the old saying goes “Location, location, location”. From the creepy fair in Herk Harvey’s “Carnival of Souls” to the mean streets of New York for Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”, unique locations have inspired filmmakers for decades. Filmmaker Eric Lahey’s “The Century Plaza” is an ode to the run down Century Plaza in Portland, which in and of itself might not be much of a home for the wayward traveler but is better than living on the street.
Lahey’s concern is to show the various lost souls inhabiting the dingy Century Plaza, what led them to this hole in the wall and perhaps where they are headed next. In room 425 lives Chastity, Manuel and their son Devin. Manuel needs periodic surgery on his ears because they don’t drain properly and money for the young couple seems tight. Despite an early scene showing Chastity holding her son close and professing her love we learn that she spends nights away out on the town and has lost children in the past due to her negligence. Greg the Mormon living in room 417 seems like a pleasant enough guy rebelling against the strict lifestyle he grew up in until we learn he is a drug addict who cannot hold a job. In room 328 lives the obese Bob whose sad, lonely lifestyle is the result of a hideous past. The real life characters that Lahey shows us are fascinating, sometimes funny but in all cases sad.
Yet despite the draw to learn what makes these people tick “The Century Plaza” never delves deeper. Lahey works hard to show the type of person who would live in the Century Plaza but seems content to merely sit back and passively observe instead of present the audience with any whys or hows behind their actions. The dual nature of Chastity, caring when she is able but unable to commit to responsibility could probably fill an entire film by itself but Lahey never works to get to know her. By the film’s end she is as much a stranger as when it began. Other characters such as the philosopher Arthur, street person turned poet Isaac or the aspiring stripper Brooke are given even less screentime, Lahey teases the audience with their first appearance and then lets their stories drop until the very end.
One can easily see why Lahey chose the Century Plaza as the subject for a film, the walls breathe history and in order to end up at the cheap hotel your life is either just beginning or hurtling towards its inevitable conclusion. However given the great set up Lahey fails to follow up with any depth or insight to truly give the Century Plaza the representation it deserves.