Photo | Joma Films
The small, quiet film “Phoenix, Oregon,” made me nostalgic for those classic ’90s indie films that are character driven and don’t have much happen in them. And I very much mean this as a compliment.
The fact that James LeGros and Kevin Corrigan, who were in films such as “Walking and Talking” and “Living in Oblivion,” show up emphasizes this retro feeling. LeGros plays a sad sack bartender with a languishing, unfinished graphic novel and a chip on his shoulder about his divorce, who gingerly undertakes a business venture to improve his life.
LeGros’s Bobby works as a bow-tied barkeep at a restaurant where his best friend from high school, Carlos (Jesse Borrego), is the chef, and their condescending boss (Diedrich Bader) skims tips and keeps lowering food quality to stay afloat.
Carlos has a dream for a better business for both of them, and Bobby has a $50,000 nest egg from his late mother, so Carlos convinces his friend to invest as a partner. Together, they plan to reopen the bowling alley where Bobby once achieved the glory of a perfect score, and serve Carlos’s superb pizzas.
Tanya (Lisa Edelstein) is a wine and liquor distributor who introduces them to a venture capitalist looking to invest in a legalized marijuana business, and wants to front the bowling alley concept, too. The cautiously optimistic Bobby starts to dream and look forward to the future again, while Carlos’s pizza fanaticism pumps the team up.
Corrigan plays Al, an irascible repairman who undertakes the huge job of refurbishing the bowling alley mechanisms, raising the requisite indie film quirkiness level. An unhinged crank, Corrigan reaches Christopher Walken levels of wild-eyed weirdness, and his performance is the loudest in a film that is otherwise understated.
LeGros in particular is moving, while his eyes, searching his surroundings from atop a droopy mustache, do most of the acting. His usual air of detachment is still there, but he creates a connection with the audience nevertheless. Maybe I just related to him; after all, his character is fixated on the age in his life that I was when I watched him in most of his films. The connection to the past is very strong, and LeGros is winsome without being whiny. This performance layers with the actors’ past performances to give “Phoenix, Oregon” its depth.
The plot of the film, and the level of its characters’ highs and lows, were very realistic. Modest achievements ameliorate regrets and mistakes for a brief time. A triumphant opening night at the restaurant, complete with a bowling tournament, gives way to eventual disappointments.
This film is warm and funny, with characters you want to sit around and enjoy the languorous, chatty pace with. Even Bobby’s unhappiness is loveable, and the only thing you will want to do more than have Carlos for a friend is to get to taste one of the pies that obsess him. Even though it is a film about middle age disappointment and personal regret, it is generally full of goodwill.
With the familiar pace and faces of the independent films I grew up with, the funny, believable “Phoenix, Oregon” might be my second-favorite bowling film. A soothing but amusing misadventure, this is a nice little dramedy that really hit the spot for me. It is full of beautiful friendships that are not immune to the pressures of the real world, and even provides some low-key artistic inspiration to hammer away at those youthful dreams once more.
“Phoenix, Oregon” is currently available to stream.
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