The “self discovery road trip” movie is one sub-genre that has been explored on a regular basis throughout cinematic history. If it’s not the relatability audiences gravitate towards regarding whichever character’s motivation, it’s the more shallow, aesthetically pleasing ingredients of the inevitable enviable scenery that accompanies the trip. She’s In Portland could easily satisfy its audience wanting both of these components, though this success doesn’t overpower the film’s often mundane temperament, resulting in an uneven drama that is well acted and looks inviting, but suffers from characters we don’t always wish to spend time with.
For the majority of the film’s 100 minute running time, She’s In Portland puts us in the passenger seat for the cross country road trip of best friends Wes (Tommy Dewey) and Luke (Francois Arnaud). Wes seemingly has the perfect life, with a beautiful family and secure job clearly fulfilling the archetypal boxes he needed checked. Luke isn’t sailing as smoothly, wanting to quit his dream career for something more stable, whilst his love life appears non-existent. It’s this lack of intimacy in Luke’s life that spurs the trip, with Wes and his wife (an absolutely wasted Minka Kelly) reconnecting with Maggie (Nicole LaLiberte), a school friend from back in the day who, as cliched as it is to refer as, is “the one that got away” for Luke.
There’s an enviousness within Wes and Luke regarding their outlooks on each other’s lives, and as much as Maggie is the catalyst for the trip, Luke is never overly enthused at the prospect of reuniting with her, more just stroking Wes’ ego. It’s obvious that there’s something missing from Wes’ life, and as the narrative progresses we are privy to just why Wes seems so intent on enjoying the sense of freedom that comes with this trip; it’s also partly the reason his character proves so hard to sympathise with.
Whilst She’s In Portland avoids the comedic tropes that road trip movies tend to take – there’s no wacky adventure or situational comedy – it also doesn’t exactly make the journey overly interesting, with Marc Carlini’s script settling for dialogue-driven set-pieces that hope to give us a further insight into Wes and Luke; the main detours the boys experience centre around their visit to a Santa Barbara university and a swanky resort in Monterey, both of which sees them interact with duos of women who represent the respective freedom and societal expectation that they’re both individually battling.
The metaphors surrounding the majority of the side characters is a little too on the nose at times, and it doesn’t help that Carlini’s script never crackles with any wit, leaving the believable performances of Dewey and Arnaud and the incredibly picturesque scenery to do the heavy lifting. Dewey and Arnaud never feel like they’re acting, with Wes and Luke appearing as authentic people that feel like genuine friends – even if they don’t always agree with each other or, as is the case here, like the other’s actions. And the postcard-attractive natural beauty of the United States’ West Coast is breathtaking at times, likely to only add to the sting that is the inability to travel right now under the world’s conditions.
She’s In Portland could’ve been a life-affirming, reflective film, and it’s evident at times that that’s what Carlini was aiming for with his relationship diagnoses. It’s a beautiful film to look at, and both Dewey and Arnaud sell their roles beyond what the script affords them, but a little more charm and levity could’ve really assisted this road trip for its audience who may not all be so willing to go along for the ride.
She’s In Portland will be available on all major US on demand platforms from September 25th. An Australian release date is still to be determined.