Title: Redwood Highway
Director: Gary Lundgren
Starring: Shirley Knight, James LeGros, Zena Grey, Catherine Coulson, Tom Skerritt, Michelle Lombardo, Shadee Vossoughi
Last fall it was Bruce Dern who set out on foot, against the wishes of his son; in “Redwood Highway,” it’s Shirley Knight who does the same, delivering an estimable turn in what amounts to a marginal showcase for fans of the legendary actress.
Director Gary Lundgren doesn’t waste any time cutting directly to the heart of his film’s conflict, setting its wheels in motion and putting his protagonist on the open road. Unhappy living in an upscale retirement community in Southern Oregon, Marie Vaughn (Knight) rebuffs the entreaties of her son Michael (James LeGros) to attend the marriage of her 22-yearr-old granddaughter, and his daughter, Naomi (Zena Grey), to an older man of whom she does not approve. Later, however, Marie has second thoughts, and decides to journey 80 miles on foot to attend the ceremony. Along the way, as she crosses paths with a number of Good Samaritan strangers (Tom Skerritt, Michelle Lombardo) who tend various wounds and otherwise help out, Marie also revisits elements from a past she hasn’t considered in more than four decades.
Lundgren and co-writer James Twyman have an ear for the sort of dismissive patter not uncommon amongst the AARP set (the query “What do you have against Google Maps?” is met curtly with “I don’t do phones”), and they’re also smart enough to basically wind up the twice Oscar-nominated Knight and let her go. She does not disappoint, either, imbuing Marie with a stubbornness and pride — she’s “the only one who has any guts,” as she puts it — that is equal parts humorous and head-shaking, and will ring a bell for anyone who’s witnessed the sometimes bizarrely oppositional struggles that can take place between an adult parent and their grandparent, when arguments can take on the sort of reason-free petulance one expects out of pre-schoolers.
As viewers are bouncing along on this odd backpack adventure, “Redwood Highway” more or less works as an octogenarian road trip — even if Marie’s irascibility seems vague and free-form, unconnected to the sort of specific resentments that would more greatly inform and shade her character. Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” will be the obvious point of comparison but that film was more artfully constructed and also much more pointed, in both its humor and pathos. “Redwood Highway” settles for an ambling pace, and doesn’t necessarily fall short in what it does as much as what it doesn’t do. For example, as Marie struggles with perhaps some degree or element of early onset dementia, the film fails to deliver flashbacks or other clarifying devices that would clue the audience into just what these fractured memories mean to Marie. “Redwood Highway” is well mounted, technically, but as it cycles through some misguided incidents (Marie encountering a tweaked-out hiker who wants her money and possibly more, for instance) before arriving at its safeguarded, expected conclusion, one wishes the film had gotten inside the mind of its subject a bit more substantively.
NOTE: “Redwood Highway” opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Town Center 5. For more information on the film, visit www.MontereyMedia.com/RedwoodHighway.
Written by: Brent Simon