How does one stop a suicidal man from killing himself? This is the challenge explored in the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival entrant “Youth in Oregon,” centering on a main character’s announcement that he wants to travel to Oregon to carry out his assisted suicide, where it is legal. Kind of a morbid version of “Little Miss Sunshine,” the movie focuses on fragmented family ties, showing they can be mended, no matter how frayed they may be.
When Raymond Engersol (Frank Langella) is faced with having another surgery that will barely extend his life expectancy, he makes up his mind: He wants to die. Ray delivers this announcement at his birthday dinner, saying he hired a driver to take him from New York to Oregon.
His granddaughter Annie (Nicola Peltz) is stunned, his daughter Kate (Christina Applegate) is hysterical, and his wife Estelle (Mary Kay Place) is indifferent. Meanwhile, his son-in-law Brian (Billy Crudup) sees an opportunity for his in-laws to finally get out of his house: It’s no real secret Brian doesn’t enjoy having his in-laws live with him.
Kate is the one most against her father traveling to Oregon to kill himself. Nonetheless, she wants to be the one to go with him (even if only to have more time to talk him out of it), but her plan gets derailed when Annie is caught sending naked photographs of herself to her boyfriend. Kate is forced to stay at home with her daughter, so Brian and Estelle instead take the road trip with Ray to Oregon. Kate assigns her husband the task of making sure they turn the car around and come home at some point.
Some hilarity ensues during the road trip, as when Brian and Estelle get high on prescription drugs. When they pick up Ray’s estranged son Danny (Josh Lucas) and Brian’s estranged son Nick (Alex Shaffer) some family fractures begin to heal, while others are ripped open.
Ultimately, “Youth in Oregon” delivers a heart-wrenching look at euthanasia without being preachy. It talks about dying with dignity and dying amid a sea of love.
Follow me on Twitter @mariamzzarella