'The Discoverers' Puts an Oregon Spin on the Dysfunctional-Family Indie Comedy
In an attempt to salvage his not-yet-published book on York, the slave who assisted the explorers Lewis and Clark, Lewis sets out with his kids to an academic conference in Oregon. But after the death of his mother, he abandons the conference for a Lewis and Clark reenactment journey, which his own history-obsessed father forced him to do as a child. Assuming the role of Clark is said grief-stricken dad (Emmy-winner Stuart Margolin), who hasn’t spoken with his son in over a decade.
Dysfunctional family? Check. Beautiful Oregon scenery? Check. Lewis and Clark theme? Check. Let’s go.
The Fox TowerWith the well-drawn characters in place in the unlikely, cell phone–adverse setting, the movie, written and directed by first-timer Justin Schwarz, quickly finds its footing in sharp dialogue, as the family’s struggles with historical accuracy ensures that they stay at each other’s throats. The best moments come from Lewis and Zoe’s interactions. When her dietary needs, or first period, call for modern technology, it’s up to Lewis to balance his duties as a son with those as a father. The result is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming.
A thread of social commentary runs through the film, as well. The movie opens with Lewis pushing his students to question what it means when “history is written by the winners.” This thought is continued during the trek with moments of Native American caricature, which Zoe (thankfully, for the audience) points out as overwhelmingly offensive. Uncomfortable and sometimes crass, for sure, but a knowing nod to the cultural insensitivity mostly prompts chuckles rather than anger.
Really, when it comes down to it, how could a cute, indie-comedy filmed in Oregon, about Oregon, fail to please Oregonians? We love to celebrate our home, especially when the commentary on historical context and family dynamics keeps the brain engaged as much as the heart.
We’ve already made it to Oregon, but watching others make the journey is satisfying all the same.