Film

Babe in the City

Unpacking the Portland Brand in City Baby

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AT THIS MOMENT in time, a movie made and set in Portland can't help but carry a banner. Thanks to bikes and novelty doughnuts and everything else, the cultural output of our city doubles as an ambassador for the Portland brand—a fact the new movie City Baby is palpably aware of.

The bands on the City Baby soundtrack are Portland bands; the beautiful young actors are Portland actors; the cityscapes and landmarks the prettiest onscreen representation of our city outside of Portlandia's opening credits. But City Baby unpacks the glossy, packaged-for-consumption version of Portland to find the actual people living inside, with impressive skill and insight.

Director David F. Morgan and co-writer/star Cora Benesh hair-split the white urban hipster demographic into a number of categories probably indistinguishable to anyone not already familiar with them: There's the pretty trust-fund girl, the kinda-douchey ad agency guy, the cranky service-industry employee who thinks she's destined for better things.

Protagonist Cloey (Benesh) is gorgeous and bored, an overgrown child who's never had to think much about what she wants to do with her life, thanks to the dual fortunes of being super hot and super rich. She dates a washed-up rock star (Andrew Harris) and indifferently explores her creativity by playing a gay teenager in a terrible local theater production. She's not stupid, she just doesn't really care about anything—and she doesn't have to. "The world opens its arms to a pretty girl," her father (Daniel Baldwin!) observes.

Cloey is a deeply realistic, deeply unlikeable character, and while her storyline feels true, it's tough to emotionally invest in her struggle to become slightly less self-absorbed. A subplot involving Cloey's best friend Paige (Jillian Leigh) is more satisfying: While Cloey traipses through the world encased in privilege, Paige comes to terms with actual adulthood and the compromises it entails.

City Baby might look like a commercial for Portland, but it turns a refreshingly critical eye on the city's most frequently exported stereotypes. There's real social commentary and insight here—and, yeah, the soundtrack is pretty good, too.

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