Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 143: Goodbye Solo (2009) - Rank 4/5


This film has left me torn over what to rate it for some time. While the film is lauded by critics almost universally, it just didn't get with me. In fact, the more I analyze it, the more I start to take issue with the film. The story is fairly simple on the surface: Solo (newcomer Souléymane Sy Savané), an immigrant cab driver makes a deal to drive an elderly fare to a fairly secluded tourist attraction in North Carolina known as Blowing Rock. Solo quickly realizes that his fare William (Red West) wishes to jump to his death from this place (though William never truly says this). The film then follows the extroverted Solo as he incorporates himself into the last days of William's life.

Red West is superb as William, possibly one of the best "crowing performances" of a career I've seen since veteran Richard Farnsworth in "Straight Story." He mixes cursing and violent temper outbursts with solemn, internal torment and sadness. You feel as if he's carrying the burden of the world on his shoulders and you can't help but relate to Solo as he struggles to comprehend why a perfectly healthy man has such a calculating plan for killing himself. Savané plays Solo with delightful enthusiasm to the point that even I, being quite the curmudgeon myself when it comes to perpetually happy, outgoing individuals, found myself chuckling at his antics. There's no doubt that the performances of the two leads is the strongest suit of the film.

As for the story, the script by writer/director Ramin Bahrani goes beyond the surface tale and incorporates several underlying themes, from loneliness (Solo, despite being the garrulous character he is, lives a life separated from his daughter and would-be wife within a vehicle of ever changing faces and William acts like he's the last man on Earth) to immigration (Solo left his true family behind in Africa to become a cab driver with little to his name, yet is happy, whereas native born William seems fairly well-off, yet utterly miserable). I appreciated the complexity of the script, however my main issue stemmed from the fact that no character truly grows from the experience of being at one another's side. That absence of development left me feeling a little empty inside. One could argue that Solo grew to be more respectful of others' privacy, for partly into the third act of the film he backs away from his persistent investigation of William's personal life in an effort to determine why he's suicidal. However, shortly after Solo reaches this stage, he regresses in a later scene where he discovers William's diary (in possibly one of the most contrived moments I've seen in a film for a long time), which not only negates any growth Solo might have made as a person, but I felt it also insulted the intelligence of the audience by explaining the subtleties of the film in a cloying manner. I had flashbacks to "Sleepy Hollow" where Miranda Richardson explains the plot to both Christina Ricci and the audience. To say that one scene soured the movie's impact on me might seem a little harsh, but it did. Still, the film is worth anyone's while, simply because it does what a good art film should do - spark debate. For that, I will rank it higher that my personal taste prefers, for the simple fact that if I'm still chewing over this movie, then there's certainly something of consequence there.

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