Fitting for a film that deals so directly with the powers that control us (time, regret, money, sovereign aliens running a simulation of reality), Gary Lundgren’s PHOENIX, OREGON proves to be a fun, emotional railing against the conventions of self-discovery and success. From the opening shot, our protagonist, Bobby (a wonderfully deadpan James LeGros), is laid out under the stars, the cosmos hanging sinister above the inherited airstream trailer that he lives—subsists—in, almost suffocating under the weight of the universe. Bobby’s stuck as a middle-aged man in a job that’s going nowhere, desperate to escape into his work as an autobiographical graphic novelist but held down by his mundane work as a bartender at a failing restaurant. He’s caught between the ideal and the real, between cold determinism and fruitful destiny. When his friend and co-worker, Carlos (Jesse Borrego), offers him an unexpected opportunity to join in on the restoration of a dilapidated bowling alley, Bobby reluctantly obliges, not knowing that this restoration might be his own as well. Stacked with a solid cast (alongside LeGros and Borrego, Lisa Edelstein plays Bobby’s crush; Kevin Corrigan plays a hilariously off-kilter bowling alley mechanic; and Diedrich Bader makes several appearances as a failing, “1%-er” restaurant owner), PHOENIX, OREGON makes for a strong film that works to flip the mundane on its head and redeem it. And even if all of it is, from the very beginning, scripted by extraterrestrial overlords, Lundgren wants us to make friends with them—and this film might be read, in the end, as his own stellar peace offering to that controlling body of alien creatures.
This movie tantalizes audiences with its nostalgia. The playful 70’s musical motifs, the reminiscence of the comic book style, and the glories of a restored bowling alley contributed to the world which I was happy to inhabit. Though the writing seemed stiff at times, the cast is dynamic and dependable; James Le Gros as Bobbie and Jesse Borrego as Carlos masterfully portray a male friendship based on loyalty and love. The characters support each other’s dreams, encouraging the audience to live into their own dreams, despite failures and mistakes.
Phoenix, Oregon is a beautiful “slice-of-life” film. The story follows protagonist Bobby (James Le Gros) as he stumbles through an unfulfilled feeling life full of loose ends, disappointment, and untapped dreams and potential. At the top of the film, Bobby (Le Gros) finds himself in a dead-end job, feeling trapped and ultimately unsatisfied. But with the encouragement of Carlos (Jesse Borrego), a well meaning friend who can make a mean pizza-pie, and his big dreams Bobby finds a new lease on life. The film is filled with ordinary people that look a lot like you and I. Like us, they have dry spells, the highest highs, devastating lows, and are driven by passion, emotion, greed and hope. The cast does a fantastic job at bringing characters from all walks of life, to life. The relationship and balance between Bobby and Carlos brought a smile to my face. I also really enjoyed Kevin Corrigan’s performance and the awkward tension that his character carried with him. Strong direction and writing by Gary Lundgren provides strong scaffolding for the rest of the film. The honesty and realness of the characters and their stories surprised me and pulled on my heart strings. After finishing the film I found myself asking, “what untapped possibilities lay just ahead of me, and within me?” I would recommend this film, especially to those who feel like they need both a little pick me up and a reminder of the potential that lies within. (Or really just anyone, you should watch it.)