SXSW FILM 2014
By Don Simpson | March 14, 2014
Director: Andy Landen
Writer: Andrew Rothschild
Starring: Aly Michalka, Dustin Milligan, Oscar MacGrady, Joey Lauren Adams, Demetri Martin, Sophi Bairley, Lou Diamond Phillips
Riley (Aly Michalka) has been diagnosed with sarcoma carcinoma (a.k.a. mouth cancer). Her chances of survival are slim at best and it is more than likely that her lower jaw will need to be removed in the not-so-distant future. Being that the 23-year-old would rather choose how, when and where she dies, she heads to Sequoia National Park to commit suicide.
Along the way to Sequoia, Riley meets-cute with Ogden (Dustin Milligan), an earnest young man with a banjo who is on his way to meet up with a bunch of his Christian cohorts. Ogden sees a beautiful young woman in need, so he turns on his Christian charm and attempts to help her. Once he finds out that Riley is on a one-way path to suicide, Ogden is left in a very precarious position. Does he help Riley achieve her goal or fight to change her mind?
Meanwhile, Riley’s father (Oscar MacGrady) makes it his mission to get to Sequoia in time to save Riley, dragging Riley’s younger sister (Sophi Bairley) along with him. In order to get there, though, he must enlist the help of his bitchy soon-to-be-ex-wife (Joey Lauren Adams) and her know-it-all boyfriend (Demetri Martin). And the more time we spend with this perpetually bickering foursome, the clearer it becomes why Riley set off to commit suicide alone. Not to cast judgment — eh, screw it! — these are horrendous human beings.
They say that suicide is one of the most selfish things a person can do, and Riley is the epitome of selfishness. Additionally, proximity to death seems to have given Riley a free pass to be excruciatingly bitter and jaded about everything. Luckily for Riley, Ogden sees right through her multitude of negative qualities…or maybe he just wants to get laid. Either way, Ogden is willing to put up with Riley’s bad attitude. As for the audience, however, Riley does not beg for our sympathies or tug at our heartstrings; we are left feeling relatively indifferent towards her.
Supporters of euthanasia, especially for patients with terminal diagnoses, will probably see Riley as a perfect candidate for their cause. The question is whether or not Sequoia will actually follow through with Riley’s chosen destiny, or take the Godly pro-life route. As soon as Ogden is introduced as a Christian, it seems likely that he will probably save her; but, thankfully, Ogden is not sent on a mission to overtly proselytize. Rather, Ogden approaches Riley with a kind and gentle heart in the hope of teaching her that there is at least one person in the world who cares about her. The one hitch is that Sequoia never convinces us as to why Ogden cares so much — other than that is just what Christians are supposed to do.