From its simple title font evocative of another era to its opening and closing shots reminiscent of The Graduate to its casting of filmmaking icon Peter Bogdanovich, Humboldt County acknowledges its immodest aims early on. Taking as their subject matter a happy, hippie hideaway in the marijuana-rich forests of Northern California, writing and directing team Danny Jacobs and Darren Grodsky seem to believe that representation of the unconventional marks their debut effort as such, but the film fails to break any new aesthetic or narrative ground.
Although promising in fits and starts, the trajectory of the film is predetermined by generic convention from the start. Opening scenes find empty-shell medical student Peter (Jeremy Strong) at a particularly low moment: Having just failed a final exam (conducted by his professor and father, played by Bogdanovich) after prescribing Paxil in response to a mock patient’s suicidal ruminations, he arrives at a proverbial crossroads. Numb and now aimless, he accepts an invitation from Bogart (Fairuza Balk), the actress formerly known as the depressed damsel in need of doctoring, to meet at a jazz club where she performs. An awkward sexual encounter later, Peter accepts a ride back to her place, not realizing Bogart doesn’t reside in the greater Los Angeles area but hours north in Humboldt County.
Given her unusual name, and Balk’s infectious live-hard, lusty demeanor, Bogart would seem to serve as catalyst for Peter’s reawakening to the wonders of the world in the vein of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” who, as incisively coined and defined by the Onion’s Nathan Rabin some time ago in response to Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Bogart certainly fits that bill, but you soon realize she’s a narrative red herring when she ditches Peter the day after bringing him to her makeshift family’s home in the woods. Though the story continues on its original path towards the straight arrow’s enlightened mellowing, it shifts to become a journey abetted not by a quirk-ridden woman, but by the particular plant — and the culture which surrounds it — for which Humboldt County is so well-known. Click here to read the rest of Kristi Mitsuda’s review of Humboldt County.