Send me an AARP application, pass the Metamucil™ and buy me a Clapper® now. I’m losing patience for the kids and their ways today. Portland-set and -shot festival darling Cold Weather has as its lead a hippie whipper-snapper character who I probably wouldn’t get along with in real life. During most of the film I was wanting to tell him to get off my lawn.
Per Portlandia, Portland, OR is the city where “young people go to retire”, and Cold Weather is about a scraggly twentysomething named Doug (Cris Lankenau) who in a way does just that. After dropping out of college in Chicago (studying forensic science, which could have led to a good steady job), Doug returns home to PDX to live with his more stable and responsible sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn)… though you might miss the fact that they’re bro and sis for the first half-hour, so spare is the dialogue. Doug enjoys sleeping until noon (always with a light on, wasting electricity), reading and rereading old Arthur Conan Doyle books (at least it’s old hardcovers and not “graphic novelizations”), and generally hanging out while Gail is at her steady job, carrying on her quiet life.
Doug needs better posture. And to stop reading in low light. He’s ruining his eyes!
He eventually lands a job at an ice factory on the wrong side of the tracks. There he makes bros with coworker Carlos (Raúl Castillo), who moonlights as a DJ. When explaining to Carlos the whole bailed-on-school situation, Doug expresses the desire to be a detective: not the CSI type, but rather (his words) “like Sherlock Holmes.” OK…
Just as Doug is getting settled into his new life, his former girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) shows up from Chicago on what she says is a business trip. Wary of the fishy story but happy to see her, Doug intros her to Gail and to Carlos; Rachel ends up being Carlos’s plus-one to a geeky event. Days later, when Rachel fails to turn up at one of Carlos’s DJ gigs, he’s convinced that something has happened to her.
Here the film nearly lost me completely, so overwrought was Carlos’s concern for this girl he only met a minute ago. But of course it does end up being a disappearance, and it does end up looking like foul play is involved. Doug takes the lead in a bobo little investigation, and like the hero of Kaboom, he spends a lot of time thinking about and reacting to things before action is taken. When he finally stops overlooking the most obvious of clues, a complex trail of more clues is uncovered, and we get closer and closer to the elusive truth.
Director/writer Aaron Katz, who grew up in Portland, is as concerned with Doug and Gail’s discoveries about each other as he is about the mystery, which often seems superfluous but becomes a means to an end itself. But Cold Weather‘s Scooby gang does take some tried-n-true old detours through lovely, damp cinematography into Hitchcock territory, occasionally to exciting effect.
It’s a weird balance of mumblecore and mystery, lackadaisical and lively. And for me it gelled, despite the elderly-esque crotchiness it invoked. I saw shades of David Lynch in the work (think Blue Velvet-y amateur detective, recall Twin Peaks‘s nasty mystery about a pretty girl gone bad), though the shades are light and fleeting. Katz, director of the calmer and mumblier Dance Party USA and Quiet City, is more concerned here with nonchalance than with noir.
So if you’ve caught buzz that Cold Weather is a rain-soaked Portland hipster mystery, and you’re still seeing it for the satisfying closure we get from whodunit stories, you may be disappointed. Because, in the end, we have just another little PNW indie — no negative connotation implied. The film has many pleasures (Keegan DeWitt’s bouncy, twinkly score being one), and the loaded conclusion leaves us to hope that what the characters have achieved will lead them to better life choices in the future.
Maybe Doug’s posture will improve, even.