Solid acting overcomes a lack of dynamic tension in this family-friendly film.
A perfectly fine walkabout through the scenic roadways and nearby woods of southern Oregon, “Redwood Highway” delivers in high spirits and fine thesping what it lacks in dynamic tension and narrative consistency. Anchored by a warm, full-bodied turn by septuagenarian Shirley Knight as a spunky but troubled retirement-home resident, and backed by fine support from vets Tom Skerritt and James Le Gros, the film, which is rolling out in limited runs across the country, will stroll mostly to VOD and to femme- and family-themed cable networks.
We meet Marie (Knight) in motion, perambulating through the opening credits roll. She’s trying to avoid her son (Le Gros, “Justified,” “Scotland, Pa.”), who’s visiting the facility to which he’s engineered her relocation (though given her feistiness and his mellow vibe, it’s a bit unclear how he managed the feat). He’s intent on convincing her to attend the wedding of her granddaughter, Naomi (Zena Gray, “House”), which she opposes, haunted by a history she doesn’t want visited on the kid. Still, considering her misgivings seem to revolve around having been the young bride of a doomed soldier, and that Naomi’s intended is the drummer in a band, it’s tough to follow the throughline. But no matter: Marie’s shoes are made for walking, and Knight accomplishes this with verve and empathy.
Deciding to attend the wedding on her own terms, she sneaks out the front door of the retirement home, determined to face her demons while retracing her steps 80 miles to the same windswept beach where her past and Naomi’s future seem destined to collide, depending on your tolerance for extended symbolism. At various stages in her days-long journey, Marie discovers she needs the help of strangers, including a kindly sheriff (Barret O’Brien), a kindly crafts shop owner (Skerritt) and a kindly barmaid (Michelle Lombardo). Luckily, most of those she meets are fairly well versed in medicine.
The plot is predictable and ill formed, even as traveling with Marie is a delight. And the second unit certainly makes the most of her journey, highlighting the autumnal glory of the titular Oregon landscape and the rugged beauty of the Pacific Coast.
Knight manages to run the gamut of Marie’s emotions, often with the slightest of changes in expression: the momentary hurt of being old and invisible to the young; the frustration at needing the help of others; the joy of her surroundings; the realization of her greatest mistake and of her chance for deliverance. Skerritt is a calming influence in a role he can play practically in his sleep (and the sculptures in his crafts shop, credited to Kevin Christman, are pretty cool). Lombardo (“Californication”), in a less vampy part, is luminous just the same. As the lone unsavory character Marie meets, Sam Daly is quickly dispatched to allow for more walking.
In his second feature (after 2009’s “Calvin Marshall”), director Gary Lundgren, who co-wrote the script (with James Twyman) and served as the film’s editor, has the most success when allowing Knight to carry the show. Tech credits are strongest when the Red camera is shooting outdoors in plenty of light; some faster pans in lower light seem a bit vertiginous. The occasional use of slo-mo is ill advised, since the pace of the movie is none too fast to begin with. John Morgan Askew’s music is bouncy without tilting over into treacly, and aptly used.