Review: ‘Dog’ (2022), starring Channing Tatum

February 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Channing Tatum in “Dog” (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Dog” (2022)

Directed by Reid Carolin and Channing Tatum

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana and the West Coast of the United States, the comedy/drama “Dog” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In exchange for a job recommendation from an ex-boss, a former Army Ranger agrees to take an unruly Belgian Malinois named Lulu, who has been hailed as a war hero, to the funeral of the Army sergeant who was her handler.

Culture Audience: “Dog” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Channing Tatum and anyone who likes “rowdy dog” movies, no matter how dull and cliché they are.

Channing Tatum in “Dog” (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures) 

“Dog” can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a wacky comedy or a sentimental drama. Either way, it’s a dull misfire. The movie’s star dog literally takes a back seat to stupid antics from humans. Considering how irritating so many of the human characters are in the movie, it would have been a welcome improvement to give more screen time to the dog. In addition, “Dog” is completely irresponsible in showing legal issues of how people should handle problematic dogs that were trained to attack and kill.

“Dog” is one of those films where the funniest scenes are already in the movie’s trailer. And they’re not very funny, because the concept of an exasperated person who’s stuck taking care of an unruly dog has been done so much better in other movies. In addition, “Dog” is a road trip movie that rehashes the same old stereotypes of “mismatched duos” who are forced to go on the road together. And yes, one of the movie’s numerous clichés is a car breaking down during a crucial part of the road trip.

Channing Tatum stars in “Dog,” his feature-film directorial debut, which he co-directed with Reid Carolin, who wrote the “Dog” screenplay. In the movie, Tatum plays Jackson Briggs (who likes to be called by his last name), a down-on-his-luck former U.S. Army Ranger, who wants to get back into some type of government protection job. Instead, Briggs is living in Montana and working at a low-paying, behind-the-counter job at a deli. Briggs lives alone and is divorced. His ex-wife Niki (played by Q’orianka Kilcher) and their 3-year-old daughter (played by identical twins Jacqueline Seaman and Francine Seaman) live in Arizona.

The biggest obstacle to Briggs getting his dream job is that he has a history of brain injuries. Briggs has applied for a diplomatic security job at a company called Black Canopy Global Security. This job application won’t be considered unless he gets a full medical exam certified by his former commanding officer. The movie has some repetitive scenes of Briggs persistently calling Black Canopy Global Security to find out what he has to do to make it to the next level of this job application process.

Briggs has been told repeatedly that even though he has completed the medical exam with a doctor’s approval, he still needs to have his former commanding officer sign off on the exam. During one of these phone calls, Briggs finds out that the applications have a yearly rotation (people can only apply once a year), and this year’s rotation closes on the following Wednesday. “I can’t wait until next year’s rotation!” Briggs exclaims. “You’ll be hearing from me.”

Meanwhile, Briggs gets some bad news: A former Army buddy named Sgt. Riley Rodriguez (played by Eric Urbiztondo, seen only in photos) has died in a single-car crash, when Riley’s car rammed into a tree. Was it an accident or a suicide? The answer is revealed in the movie. And it’s exactly what you think it is.

Briggs goes to his former work base Fort Lewis in Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Washington state for the memorial. He meets up with some of his former Army buddies at a bar, but he feels slightly out of place because he’s the only one at this gathering who’s not in the military. They talk about Riley and the good times they had with him.

While he’s in the area, Briggs visits his former commanding officer at Fort Lewis. He almost doesn’t get in because his employee pass has expired, and the Fort Lewis MP (played by Devin White) at the gate won’t let him through the gate. Briggs acts hostile and defensive, even though the MP is just doing his job. It’s the first sign that Briggs can be an entitled jerk.

But luckily, right at that moment, Briggs’ former commanding officer Captain Luke Jones (played by Luke Forbes) drives up and tells the MP at the gate that it’s okay to give Briggs access. Briggs then drives through the gate while giving the MP a smug grin. This gatekeeping scenario is repeated again in other parts of the movie, with Briggs reacting in obnoxious ways to the guard at the gate, such has giving him the middle finger and cursing at him. Briggs is so immature, you almost expect him to stick out his tongue like a bratty child during these interactions.

When Briggs explains to Captain Jones that he needs him to certify Briggs’ medical exam for this security job application, Captain Jones initially refuses and asks sarcastically if Briggs paid a bribe to get a doctor clearance on a medical exam. However, Captain Jones changes his mind when he tells Briggs that he needs someone to transport Riley’s combat dog—a Belgian Malinois named Lulu—to Riley’s home state of Arizona to attend Riley’s funeral. After that, the dog will undergo euthanasia, because Lulu has been deemed unfit for adoption.

Captain Jones says that if Briggs can get Lulu to the funeral and back to Fort Lewis with no mishaps, then he will certify the medical exam for Briggs’ job application. The trip has to be done by car, because Lulu is too dangerous to take on public transportation. Captain Jones warns Briggs: “Lulu is not the same dog you served with. She’s got every combat trigger in the book.”

A montage at the beginning of the movie shows that Lulu was born on August 12, 2014. She was adopted at 5 months old by the Fort Lewis 75th Ranger Regiment. She served with Riley in the Afghanistan War. Lulu is considered too hard to handle because she has the canine version of post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s easily agitated and might attack if she’s “triggered.” (Three dogs actually play Lulu in the movie. Their names are Zuza, Britta and Lana 5.)

Lulu often has to wear a muzzle because of how unpredictable she is with her attacks. Briggs finds out the hard way when he sees Lulu for the first time in years. And she immediately knocks him down during an attack. Captain Jones and the kennel master (played by Trent McDonald) just laugh at this spectacle. Expect to see more “out-of-control attacking dog” scenes that wouldn’t be funny at all in real life.

As so, off Briggs and Lulu go on this road trip in his 1984 Ford Bronco. Briggs is told the dog can only wear the muzzle for two hours at a time, or else she’ll get overheated. Briggs starts his road trip with Lulu on a Wednesday. The funeral is four days later, on a Sunday. His job application is due the following Wednesday. Therefore, “Dog” is not only a road trip movie, but it’s also a “race against time” movie. But you wouldn’t know it by how this movie drags and lumbers along with distractions that would take up valuable hours in real time.

Early on in the road trip, Briggs stops at a shooting range to spend time there for fun. When he comes back to his Bronco, he finds that Lulu has broken out of her carrier and chewed up the upholstery seating. “You’re just a demon!” he yells at Lulu, before he drugs her so that she’ll go to sleep. Briggs openly laughs that he can make this dog unconscious whenever he wants. Yes, this movie tries to make a pathetic joke out of a dog being drugged to unconsciousness.

It should come as no surprise that at some point in the movie, Briggs doesn’t bother putting the muzzle on her. That’s because there are many scenes contrived so that Lulu’s agitated barking causes unwanted attention, with Briggs acting mortified, while some unrealistic slapstick comedy scenario ensues. These scenarios have no imagination and are actually not very amusing.

One of the stops on the Briggs Buffoonery Tour is Portland, Oregon. The filmmakers of “Dog” must have some type of grudge against Portland, because there’s a big chunk of the movie that shows open disdain for Portland residents. Everyone in Portland is depicted as progressive liberal hipsters, weirdos or aging hippies who automatically dislike/distrust people with a military background. It’s an over-the-top portrayal that’s supposed to be funny, but it just comes across as lazy and unrealistic stereotyping. Portland is a lot more diverse than the narrow-minded, warped way that the city’s residents are depicted in “Dog.”

On his first night in Portland, Briggs goes to a bar to find any woman who wants to have sex with him. The bartender (played by Luke Jones) announces to Briggs that they only serve organic beer. While waiting in line to use the restroom, Briggs is pestered by a guy (played by Cole Walliser) babbling to him about technology and virtual gifts. And then, Briggs meets a succession of women who don’t have regular conversations with him. They give sanctimonious lectures spouting their political views to let him know how “woke” they are.

One woman named Sonia (played by Tory Freeth) says she likes country music but has a problem with how country music celebrates “toxic masculinity.” Did she forget that there are plenty of successful female country artists? Another woman named Natalie (played by Skyler Joy) scolds Briggs after she find out he’s an Afghanistan War veteran: “Did you realize you were just a pawn for Big Oil? Just body bags carrying out ecological genocide for the corporate elite?” Another woman named Tara (Patricia Isaac) says she’d like to meet any man who doesn’t have a “white savior complex.”

Briggs leaves the bar in disgust at all the politically correct people he met there. In the parked truck, he tells Lulu, “We’ve got to get out of here, because you’re the only woman in this entire city that I’d like to have a conversation with.” But just then, Briggs thinks he’s going to get lucky with two women who approach him in the parking lot because they see Lulu in his truck. The women—whose names are Bella (played by Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Zoe (played by Nicole LaLiberte)—live together and have Shih Tzus with them, so they all talk about their dogs. Bella and Zoe, who describes themselves as “tantric healers,” invite Briggs back to their house, for what he’s sure will be a sexual threesome.

Bella, Zoe and Briggs start to get touch-feely at the house, and his shirt comes off. Lulu doesn’t like being cooped up in the truck, of course. She starts barking loudly while the Bronco is parked out on the street, in front of Bella and Zoe’s house. A nosy next-door neighbor named Brad (played by Timothy Eulich) comes out of his house and gets angry—not at Lulu, but at Briggs for keeping the dog in the car. Brad yells that the dog is an “abused animal” and continues his rant by saying, “Animals are people too!”

A shirtless Briggs runs outside to see what all the commotion is about, and he sees that Brad has a rock in his hand. Briggs tells Brad to put down the rock, but an incensed Brad calls Briggs a “redneck,” even though Brad knows nothing about Briggs. And then, Brad throws the rock at the back window to smash it and so Lulu can jump out of the car. (And apparently, with “concerned animal lover” Brad not caring if the shattered glass could injure the dog.)

After the entire back window is broken, Lulu jumps out and tears off part of Brad’s jacket before he quickly runs back into his house. Bella and Zoe, who witnessed all this chaos, are so turned off by this violence, they don’t want anything to do with Briggs. Briggs has a hissy fit while he puts Lulu back in the car again. He yells at Lulu: “You ruined an epic threesome!” And then he shouts at her: “Bitch!” Yes, the movie is that idiotic.

Briggs finds himself in more ridiculous scenarios. In one sequence, Lulu runs away in a wooded area, with Briggs giving chase on foot. He ends up in a marijuana greenhouse owned by a hippie-ish married couple named Gus (played by Kevin Nash) and Tamara (played by Jane Adams), who’s another “cosmic” type who likes to talk about karma and energy. It’s one of the worst parts of the movie because of how mindless and unfunny it is. (Hint: A tranquilizer gun and a kidnapping are involved in this scenario.)

More of Briggs’ asinine antics continue. Another low point in the movie is in San Francisco, where he pretends to be a blind military veteran so he can get a free room at a luxury hotel. What happens in the hotel is partially shown in the trailer for “Dog.” But there’s a tone-deaf scenario in the movie where Briggs is accused of being a racist after Lulu attacks a man wearing Muslim garb in the hotel lobby, because she was trained to attack men wearing Muslim garb in the Afghanistan War.

Unrealistically, Briggs is arrested for a hate crime, when he should have been arrested for negligent handling of an animal. As shown in the movie’s trailer, Lulu’s rampage also “outed” Briggs for not being blind, as he claimed he was, so he’s also arrested for fraud. Needless to say, there’s more time wasted as Briggs is locked up in jail.

The man who was attacked is named Dr. Al-Farid (played by Junes Zahdi), who has to decide whether or not he’ll press charges against Briggs. Because this movie is so sloppily written, it never addresses how the hotel wants to handle the fraud charges. It also never shows what would happen in real life: The dog would be taken away to a city animal shelter and undergo euthanasia because it viciously attacked a human being who did not provoke the dog.

But there would be no “Dog” movie in all of its awfulness if the movie tried to be realistic. Briggs’ version of “dog therapy” is to show Lulu videos of herself fighting in a combat zone. (Briggs gets the videos from an I Love Me scrapbook that Riley made for Lulu.) Not only does Briggs stupidly reinforce anti-social behavior for the dog, but he also rewards the dog for it with treats, like she’s a child who needs to just be parked in front of a TV and given snacks while watching violent videos of herself. It’s so heinous and absolutely the wrong way to teach a dog how to un-learn violent training.

After a lot of pathetic attempts to be a zany comedy, the movie takes an abrupt turn into sappiness that’s supposed to be tearjerking but comes across as cynical and calculated. It’s all very unearned. People who know how long it takes for a problematic dog to un-learn any dangerous training will be rolling their eyes at the ending of the movie. Lulu’s personality transformation in less than a week is very unreal.

There’s a scene where Briggs meets a man named Noah (played by Ethan Suplee), and it’s enough to say that no expert “dog whisperer”/dog trainer in the world would be able to accomplish what Noah does in less than an hour. This dog would’ve been permanently taken away from Briggs after his arrest in San Francisco. An incompetent character like Briggs makes things worse, but the movie lets him off the hook too easily. The redemption arc that’s rushed in at the end of the movie is extremely phony.

There’s not much to say about the acting in this movie except that most of it ranges from adequate to not very impressive. The movie’s editing, tone and pacing are all very uneven. The horrendous screenplay has too many plot holes and unrealistic scenarios that give misleading depictions of how military combat dogs are handled. And a big takeaway from “Dog” is that Tatum has the dubious distinction of co-directing himself in a movie where a dog has a better personality and more intelligence than the character he plays in the movie.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “Dog” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022.

Review: ‘She’s in Portland,’ starring Tommy Dewey, Francois Arnaud and Minka Kelly

October 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Francois Arnaud and Tommy Dewey in “She’s in Portland” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media)

“She’s in Portland”

Directed by Marc Carlini

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, Oregon and suburban Washington, D.C., the romantic drama “She’s in Portland” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two former college classmates in their mid-30s—one who’s a married father and the other who’s an available bachelor—go on a road trip to track down a bachelorette who knew them from college and who might be interested in dating the bachelor.

Culture Audience: “She’s in Portland” will appeal primarily to people who like realistic relationship dramas with touches of comedy.

Tommy Dewey and Minka Kelly in “She’s in Portland” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media)

If people wonder where are all the good movies about male bonding that don’t involve action-packed stunts, war combat or juvenile comedy, then point them in the direction of “She’s in Portland,” a gem of a film that deserves to be discovered. Directed with appealing charm by Marc Carlini (who co-wrote the screenplay with Patrick Alexander), “She’s in Portland” doesn’t strike a false note throughout the entire film. It’s not a perfect movie, but it has an authenticity that’s refreshing when movies too often portray men as caricatures or as people who do extraordinary things that require huge suspensions of disbelief. “She’s in Portland” is also about the pitfalls of having “grass is greener” envy about other people’s lives, when in reality those other people might have problems that aren’t enviable at all.

“She’s in Portland” is Carlini’s feature-film debut, and if the movie seems very realistic, that’s because it’s loosely based on some of Carlini’s real-life experiences. According to the production notes for “She’s in Portland,” Carlini, who has years of experiences as a film/video editor, was single and in his 30s when he was presented with a chance to reconnect with a bachelorette who was a former college classmate. He and the woman had a brief flirtation in college that could’ve ended up as a romantic relationship, but it didn’t. He then had to decide if it was worth it to see if that mutual attracted still existed.

That’s the dilemma facing Luke (played by Francois Arnaud), a bachelor in his mid-30s who works as an underpaid and underappreciated music video editor in Los Angeles. Luke is the passive “beta male” in this story about a longtime friendship between two men who met when they attended the same college together. The assertive “alpha male” in this friendship is Wes Hill (played by Tommy Dewey), a seemingly confident venture capitalist who has what most people consider to be the American Dream. 

Wes lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., and he makes enough money to afford a comfortably upscale home. Wes is a smooth talker with a “take charge” personality, which is one of the reasons why he’s successful in his job. He has a beautiful wife named Sarah (played by Minka Kelly), who was his college sweetheart and who clearly adores him. Wes and Sarah are parents to a daughter who is nearly 2 years old. They are all healthy and seemingly happy. 

But Wes is feeling bored and restless in his marriage. And it doesn’t help that Sarah’s parents—Dennis (played by Robin Gammell) and Joan (played by Elaine Partnow)—live in the same house. The first sign that Wes is feeling discontent in his home life is early on in the movie, when Dennis criticizes a defensive Wes over not getting a household repair done in the way that Dennis would’ve liked.

It’s clear that there’s tension between Wes and Dennis, probably because Wes doesn’t feel like he’s the real head of the household, as long as his father-in-law Dennis is there. Wes also isn’t sure if his wife Sarah would take Wes’ side if she had to choose between Wes and Dennis in an argument. In fact, Sarah refuses to criticize her father or show that she’s more loyal to her husband than she is to her parents.

Meanwhile, Wes has been trying to reach Luke over the phone and has to leave voicemail messages asking Luke to call him back. Based on what Wes says in one of the messages, Wes has not heard from Luke in more than a month. Their college class is having an upcoming reunion that Wes plans to attend, and he hasn’t been able to find out if Luke will be there too.

And in the voice messages that Wes leaves for Luke, it’s clear that Wes imagines that Luke is living a carefree bachelor life in Los Angeles, which is a mecca for good-looking people who want to be famous and in showbiz. Wes makes a slightly sarcastic comment that Luke must be too busy dating all the hot women he meets in Los Angeles, while Wes is stuck in a boring corporate job and living in the same house as his demanding father-in-law.

The reality is that Luke isn’t all that happy with his life either. He lives in a cramped one-bedroom apartment. He’s struggling to pay his bills, since it’s not unusual for his clients to underpay him or pay him very late. And there’s more than a hint that Luke would rather be doing something else with his talent than doing low-paying editing jobs. (It’s a frustration that writer/director Carlini had for years, according to what he says in this movie’s production notes.)

As for Luke’s love life, he’s shown morosely deleting his profile on an online dating site. Luke ends up not going to his college reunion. But Wes does, and he runs into a woman named Maggie (played by Nicole LaLiberte), whom Wes and Luke knew only on an acquaintance level. However, shortly before they graduated, Luke and Maggie had an amazing connection when she invited herself over to Luke’s graduation party. Later in the movie, Luke tells the details of that night, in one of the film’s best scenes.

The romantic sparks between Luke and Maggie didn’t go anywhere because they never dated each other. After graduation, she moved to Europe, while Luke also moved on with his life and didn’t keep in touch. But at the college reunion, when Wes and Maggie begin talking, she says that she’s an aspiring painter who works as a bartender in Portland, Oregon. She also asks if Luke is at the reunion, and she looks very disappointed when Wes tells her that Luke probably won’t be there.

Maggie’s dismayed reaction plants an idea in Wes’ head to play matchmaker to Luke and Maggie. Wes has an upcoming business trip to go to San Francisco. And so, Wes decides that before he does his business dealings in San Francisco, he’ll stop over in Los Angeles and tell Luke about this risk-taking adventurous idea: Take a road trip to Portland, find Maggie, and see if she and Luke can rekindle what they almost started in college. Los Angeles is about 960 miles from Portland, so it will take several days to make the trip by car with all the stops that Wes plans to take along the way.

When Wes shows up unannounced at Luke’s door, Luke is surprised to see him. When Wes tells Luke about how Maggie asked about Luke at the reunion, Luke is less than enthusiastic about taking a road trip to Portland to see Maggie. In fact, Luke hates the idea. Luke tells Wes that he’s “taking a break from women” and that he’s been celibate for the past six months.

There’s more to Luke saying no to this trip than Luke not being interested in dating. Luke hasn’t been feeling that great about his life in general, because he sees other friends in his age group thriving in their careers, getting married and having children. Meanwhile, Luke feels stuck in a rut and wonders why he isn’t living his best life. Observant viewers can figure out pretty easily that the main reason why Luke has been avoiding Wes, who seems to have a nearly perfect life, is because of Luke’s diminished self-esteem when comparing himself to his closest friend from college. 

Wes decides to make the best of his time with Luke, so they hang out at a bar, where a drunk woman named Mallory (played by Paige Spara) sees Luke and makes a beeline for him. She playfully tells Luke that he was “mean” to her, and it’s clear from his reaction that they probably had a casual relationship that she wanted to be more serious that he did, so he probably distanced himself from her. Sure enough, Luke tells Wes that Mallory and Luke used to hook up, but he just wasn’t that into her and ended the relationship.

Mallory tries to be flirtatious with Luke, but he’s not having it. A female friend with Mallory attempts to get Mallory to leave the bar with her, but Mallory refuses, so the friend gives up and leaves. Mallory is then surrounded by some rough-looking men at the bar who look like they’re probably going to take advantage of Mallory in her drunken state.

Wes and Luke are nearby seeing all of this take place with Mallory and the sleazy-looking men. Wes puts Luke on a guilt trip and says that they shouldn’t leave Mallory alone with these strangers. And so, Luke reluctantly invites Mallory to crash at his place. (A predictable vomit scene then happens.)

The next morning, Mallory mistakes Luke’s kind gesture as a sign that he wants to start dating her again. She tries to kiss him, and when Luke makes it clear that he’s not interested, Mallory goes on a tirade and insults Luke by telling him he’s a “loser,” while Wes is nearby watching this mini-meltdown. After Mallory leaves in a huff, Luke tells Wes that he’s changed his mind about taking the road trip. And off they go.

For whatever reason, Wes has brought a duffel bag full of cash with him on the trip. One of the things that Wes does before the road trip is impulsively buy a bright orange Ford Bronco that he saw for sale on a nearby street. This Bronco is what Wes and Luke use for the road trip, with Wes in the driver’s seat, literally and figuratively.

One thing that’s very apparent in the movie is that Wes seems overly invested in making a love connection between Luke and Maggie. It’s as if Wes wants to believe that true romance can happen against the odds, perhaps because he’s starting to doubt how much he loves his wife Sarah. There are bits and pieces of this inner turmoil that come out in the way that Wes looks and talks whenever his marriage and “ideal” life are mentioned in conversations.

Wes and Luke end up taking the Pacific Coast Highway on their trip north. They stop off in places such as Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Monterey, San Francisco and Humboldt County. And along the way, they encounter different people who give viewers more insight into the contrasting personalities of Wes and Luke, as well as how each of these two buddies interact when they meet new people.

Even though Luke is the one who’s the bachelor, he’s much more hesitant about approaching women than Wes is. In Santa Barbara, Wes and Luke end up partying with two fun-loving college girls who are about 15 years younger than Wes and Luke. Bayla (played Olivia Crocicchia) is a sorority type who is attracted to Wes, like Constance (played by Medalion Rahimi) is a hippie-ish type who has a connection with Luke.

Wes and Luke tell them why they’re going to Portland, and Bayla and Constance think it’s a romantic idea and encourage Luke to find Maggie. Luke still has some doubts and fears about how Maggie will react to this surprise visit, but Wes is so enthusiastic about the trip that Luke goes along with what Wes has in mind. Bayla and Constance need to go to Big Sur, which is in the same direction as where Wes and Luke are going, so Wes and Luke offer them a ride to Big Sur. This carpool leads to some mildly amusing situations.

Luke is also thinking that even if he and Maggie did rekindle what they started, it would probably be a long-distance relationship because he has no plans to move to Portland. Luke has become fed up with living in Los Angeles, and he’s considering moving to Richmond, a suburb in the San Francisco area, because Luke’s brother Phil has offered to help Luke get a corporate job at a sanitation company. It’s definitely not Luke’s dream job, but he’s tired of being broke.

While in Monterey, Luke gets a call from Phil, who tells him that the potential sanitation-company job needs to interview Luke that coming Monday. And just like that, Luke has to decide whether or not to continue on to Portland or go to the job interview. Luke makes a bet with Wes that will determine the decision.

Meanwhile, during their last night in Monterey, Luke and Wes meet another pair of female friends: Rebecca (played by Joelle Carter) and Ellen (played Lola Glaudini), who are in their 30s and seated nearby at an outdoor lounge area. Wes is the one who takes the initiative and approaches them, while Luke sits nearby and watches.

Wes invites Rebecca and Ellen to join him and Luke for dinner and drinks. This dinner scene is one of the standouts in the movie because the four of them open up about their relationships and what they think about finding true love. It’s a mature, very realistic conversation that will resonate with a lot of people who watch this movie. 

Luke and Wes have told Rebecca and Ellen why they decided to take the road trip, and the two women weigh in with their opinions. Rebecca is newly divorced (she literally signed the divorce papers that morning) after 17 years of marriage. She and her ex-husband, who lives a few hours away in Palo Alto, share custody of their 11-year-old son Jesse and their 9-year-old daughter Caroline. Ellen, who traveled from Berkeley to comfort Rebecca through this final stage of the divorce, has never been married and she says that she doesn’t want kids.

There’s another pair of female friends whom Luke and Wes encounter later on, after a few surprise twists and turns in the story. It’s enough to say that Wes didn’t want this road trip only to play matchmaker for Luke. Wes is also using the trip to figure out his feelings about love and evaluating how he’s been living his life. His “grass is greener” envy about Luke is that Luke has the freedom to come and go wherever he pleases as a bachelor with no children, while Wes has a much more constrained and regimented lifestyle.

“She’s in Portland” makes great use of locations for what is obviously a low-budget film, whether it’s the intoxicating party atmosphere of Santa Barbara, the laid-back beaches of Big Sur or a somber cliffside gravesite in Elk, California. And, of course, any movie that’s about a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway should have majestic views of the highway and nearby landscape, which cinematographer Devin Whetstone captures with breathtaking aplomb.

Beyond these production elements, the greatest strength of “She’s in Portland” is the heart of the story: the well-acted, well-written portrayal of Wes and Luke’s friendship. The supporting characters also make this story seem very naturalistic and genuine, but everything hinges on and ultimately succeeds with the convincing performances of Dewey and Arnaud.

On the surface, “She’s in Portland” seems like a road-trip movie to find love with a woman, but it’s really a journey about two male buddies who come to realistic terms about who they are and what they want out of love. And what they discover is that “grass is greener” envy isn’t so much about wanting someone else’s life, but it’s a fear that your own life has been about settling for less than what you want and deserve. 

Freestyle Digital Media released “She’s in Portland” on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

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