There's an odd micro-genre that generally pops up within the world of indie movies, and it can basically be described as the had it/lost it conundrum. The main character was great once, we're told, or something damn near it; time, however, and fate, hit this character hard, and when we finally catch up with them, it's pretty far into give up territory and the muted world around them just seems sad.
Phoenix, Oregon from director Gary Lundgren (Wow and Flutter) starts about there as the once-hot-shit Bobby (James Le Gros) settles into yet another year of trying to ignore the death of his mother, his divorce and small town pointlessness someplace in southern Oregon.
Bobby's a bartender at one of those "authentic" Italian ristorante type places where the owner (Diedrich Bader) uses a cheap blend instead of the real olive oil, pools tips to include himself and ignores the advice of his chef Carlos (Colombiana's Jesse Borrego) to cut corners. All current and former restaurant workers know this place. And it's sad, but when Carlos decides to renovate the dormant local bowling alley with a combination of artisan pizzas, locally sourced drinks and bowling (which Bobby was great at once upon a time), Bobby finds the means to dig himself out of the depression hole; the orbiting venture capitalist (Reynaldo Gallegos) and liquor distributor (Lisa Edelstein of House) egg them on.
A plan is formed. And hatched. The town loves it. Bobby emerges from his fog. The venture capitalist is a scumbag, though (we saw that coming, like, immediately). Demand outweighs supply. Running a business is hard! Bowling isn't everything! Conflict! Conflict! Conflict!
Phoenix, Oregon tells a sweet enough tale and a familiar one at that—aging is tough for everyone—but its meandering pacing and overly cluttered series of plot points do it a disservice. Bobby's divorced because they couldn't have kids. His mom died when he needed her. He's working on a comic book about how we all live in an alien simulation but he's too self-pitying to submit it anyplace, he misses being great at things…in more capable hands, this could have proven a rich well from which to draw, but Le Gros struggles to find emotion even when it's there for the taking. Granted, an extended bowling scene with consummate character actor Kevin Corrigan didn't do him any favors, nor does the clunky script, but even Borrego's more natural turn as the best bud can't save Le Gros from himself. Edelstein, meanwhile, exists in a vacuum, a woman written by a man if we've ever seen one—a woman sent to be the object of lust and little more. Yikes.
Throw in a bizarrely disconnected soundtrack, Bader's inconsequential appearance and a tragic lack of focus on the comic book aspect of the film, and Phoenix, Oregon becomes a dragging, sagging trudge through circumstances we're familiar with, they've just been so distorted and overwrought that we can't possibly care or relate by the ending.
It should be noted, however, that instead of hitting its theatrical release this week, Phoenix, Oregon has been released online through Joma Films at a mere $6.50. Not only that, but the website offers a dropdown menu of theaters that were scheduled to screen the movie who will get the proceeds from the sale.
In New Mexico, that theater is Albuquerque's Guild Cinema.
Since we're all pretty much stuck at home for right now, that's a hard deal to beat whether or not it's a good film—and we'll be supporting a fine indie movie house to boot. Just do it.
+The setup is there and intriguing…
-…it's just not very good, bless 'em
Directed by Lundgren
With Le Gros, Borrego, Edelstein and Corrigan
R, jomafilms.com, 108 min.