Humboldt County, the new independent comedy-drama from writers/directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs, sneaks on to shelves this month with a quietude as serene as its iZLER-composed musical score. Despite apt writing and direction, this slice-of-life piece simply fails to assert itself and leaves viewers with an indifference to the material.That’s not to say Humboldt County lacks competence. There isn’t a bad performance in the film. Two performances, in fact, are absolute dynamite. The always dependable Brad Dourif does what he does best, playing the crazy eccentric type, but this time he has a very human twist that endears him to the audience like never before. And Madison Davenport, a stunningly talented child actress, marks her debut with a strong performance that captures every scene she’s in.
But as is the bane of independent cinema, nothing happens. Grant it, this may be partly because of budgetary restraints, but I repeat, nothing happens. Peter (Jeremy Strong) is a troubled medical student, who has hit a snag in his residency. Threatened with failure by his father/professor (Peter Bogdanovich), he accompanies Bogart (Fairuza Balk), a free spirit setting out on a trip back to the place where she grew up in Humboldt County. What he doesn’t know is that in the morning, Bogart will be gone, and he will be stranded in the arms of her quirky family of pot-farmers on a journey for self-discovery. Unfortunately, Peter, the one we are supposed to care about, falls short of his adequate moral compass standing, and is just flat-out boring. Through no fault of his own, Strong’s character is written without any flesh on his bones. As such, the most uninteresting character in the film should be the last one getting all the attention.
Luckily, viewers have Dourif and Davenport to reward them for the experience. Dourif’s crazed ramblings and occasional traces of humanity and vulnerability provide Peter with his only shining moment in the film. And Davenport, with wisdom well beyond her youth, sells an improbably written character with a performance that is perfectly believable. Balk is wasted in a very brief role as catalyst of the whole adventure, so fans of this amazing actress should not set hopes too high. Neither should anyone looking for story to go with their cinema.
The 1.78:1 widescreen presentation holds solid colors and a crisp picture. It’s a well-photographed motion picture with dominant greens and nice contrast. Clearly apparent is the fact that Grodsky and Jacobs know what they’re doing with a camera, and one should anticipate what the pair could do with a more lively script. Not all elements of the story are bright and cheery, but the image more often than not is.
The 5.1 audio track errs toward the low end on volume, while the film just doesn’t have enough going on to warrant the trouble of a solid surround mix. This is one of those rare instances where watching it on a mono track gives viewers pretty much the same effect as the supposed bells-and-whistles version. Much disappointment follows this side of the release. Perhaps it would have been better had more been going on in the film.
A Little Hazy: Humboldt County Revisited – 7 minutes. Nicely shot short featuring Grodsky and Jacobs feeding viewers a few details on the project’s evolution. Includes some interviews, and done with an obvious lightheartedness that never takes itself too seriously; but overall, like the rest of the supplemental material provided, it’s a throwaway feature.
Behind the Scenes – 11 minutes. This feature includes interviews with the cast and crew. Nothing too deep here…
Deleted Scenes – 5 minutes. This feature includes a series of very short scenes cut from the film with good reason.
Characters aplenty… some believable, some not, some exciting, some dull… is the only thing to recommend this independent film. Plot is ineffectual. It’s a droll piece of work with little to enjoy, but a lot to respect and admire, and plenty of credit to give where it’s due. The video is superb; the audio, not so much; and the bonus material, at a grand total of 23 minutes, is nearly non-existent. If you must see it, then queue up your Netflix.