Movie Review: Redwood Highway (2013)

 

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by Alan F. Zundel

“Redwood Highway” is a modest movie with a three specific charms to recommend it.

This first charm is that it was filmed on location in beautiful southern Oregon along the 199 highway to the Pacific coast. That’s the reason my wife and I watched the film in the first place! We’ve lived in Oregon almost nine years now and love it. Cinematographer Patrick Neary captures a multitude of splendid scenes of the beauty that is Oregon.

The second charm is Tom Skerritt in the role of Pete, an (of course) easy-going older guy. Skerritt’s been around a long time and will be familiar to everyone from something, but is probably best known for his role as Sheriff Jimmy Brock on the 1990s TV series “Picket Fences.” Skerritt does not so much act as settles down inside the movie like he lives there, welcomes you in, and offers you a seat to sit a spell and enjoy things.

The third charm is Michelle Lombardo as Stacia, a hard-working single mother. Lombardo is less well-known, although she has a growing list of TV and movie credits. She infuses the role of Stacia with a genuine sense of human presence despite being written as a one-note character. Every scene she is in feels more engaging than it might have been, just due to her warmth and charisma.

Other than those three charms, the movie is pleasant but not exceptional. The plot involves Marie (Shirley Knight), a woman living unhappily in a retirement community who refuses to go to her granddaughter Naomi’s wedding because she thinks she is too young to get married. Marie has a change of mind and decides to walk the 80 miles down the Redwood Highway to get to the wedding without her son’s help. She meets various people along the way, relives memories of her own wedding, and comes to greater self-knowledge in the process.

Shirley Knight does her best, which is very good, but the character of Marie is hard to make sympathetic because she complains a lot, often for no apparent reason. James LeGros as her son Michael and Zena Grey as Naomi also do their best with a predictable script. Skerritt and Lombardo liven things up a little as people Marie meets on her journey, but as characters who give aid and comfort to Marie despite her prickliness (yes, Oregonians often are that friendly), you can only wonder why they spend so much time with her when they don’t have to.

Co-writers Gary Lundgren and James Twyman use the familiar device of a road trip to force their protagonist into a confrontation with herself, but provide no real surprises along the way. Marie’s climatic moment of self-knowledge is underlined just so you don’t miss it, and aside from one run-in with a couple of meth addicts, she encounters nothing but wonderful, friendly Oregonians.

As director Lundgren also plays things safe, although in the early scenes his actors could have used a little more help making their clichéd lines sound real. A scene of a detective questioning retirement community residents was apparently written as comedy but falls flat on the screen. Otherwise, things move along nicely.

If you can’t get to Oregon for a road trip to the coast, rent a copy of “Redwood Highway” as the next best thing. You’ll see beautiful sights, have a pleasant time, and meet some nice people along the way. Nothing very dramatic will happen, but if you get into the mood of things you may even find your eyes growing misty when an old woman gets over herself and apologizes to her long-suffering family.

 

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