' Cinema Romantico: Goodbye Solo

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Goodbye Solo

I am not going to lie. I find relentless optimists to be excruciating. I do not trust them one bit. My friend Caleb once made an impassioned, and I think entirely accurate, plea that cynics, contrary to popular belief, are the most hopeful people on the planet and that relentless optimists are the most gloomy due in no small part to the fact they have essentially given up. Consider the Ludachristmas episode of NBC's "30 Rock" in which the parents of Tina Fey's Liz Lemon are the most buoyant of all optimists until at episode's end it is revealed they are in complete denial and have more deep seated issues than anyone.

Now please do not assume I live in darkness 24 hours a day, the shades drawn, sharpening a scythe every day in readiness for Armageddon. I think my Lady Gaga post from a few days ago should let you know how in love with life I can be but a cynic's love does not bloom all willy nilly. It must be earned.

I say all this because the character at the forefront of Ramin Bahrani's third feature film is a relentless optimist. Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is a Senegalese cab driver in Winston Salem, North Carolina, warm, willing to communicate with anyone, often by branding them over and over as "Big Dog" (perhaps Solo was a Glenn Robinson fan? Anyone....anyone?) and Sy Savane plays it in such a way to suggest this is no sham but a genuine a belief that being kind-hearted can go a long way. He didn't wear me down. I liked him almost immediately. It is not that he is pushing himself into your world to be your friend, it's that he just wants to make sure you're time with him is the brightest time possible. He's an earnest dude.

But an older man named Walter (Red West) climbs in the taxi. He is going to the movies. He also offers Solo $1000 in cash to, in ten days time, drive him to the top of Blowing Rock National Park, a mystic place where the snow blows up, and leave him there. Why? Walter won't say why. Solo, joking with him, says, "You're not going to jump?" Walter says nothing and his face reveals that maybe this is a real possibility. From here Solo makes strides to become Walter's friend, perhaps in an attempt to help him. That is Solo's way.

The film does a superb job of sketching its lead with the tiniest flourishes. The way Solo dotes on his stepdaughter (who is always texting someone) and how he is so affable he even assists drug dealers (not in the dealing, of course, but in the getaway) he knows and his dream of becoming a flight attendant. This dream, however, is not thrust in our face. There will be no triumphant moment of Solo pushing a beverage cart as "Eye of the Tiger" fills the surround sound. No, no, no, this is a film of restraint.

And Walter is all restraint. He reveals nothing, we learn little, and what we do learn is only as a result of Solo's digging and prodding. The biggest secret is never entirely authenticated and no great wisdom will be gleaned. For all his good naturedness we find Solo can be hurt, and take note of how it happens - implicit faith in humanity is both a wonderful and tricky thing. The end is so uncomplicated it becomes something grand.

This is Bahrani's third feature film and the second one I have seen, the other being "Chop Shop" which was even smaller and with a much more documentary-type feel. It was good but I found "Goodbye Solo" far more impressive, I think because it contains a much more conventional narrative without forsaking any of the reality or simple storytelling. This guy's on the rise. I loved this movie. It's one of 2009's best.

1 comment:

Rory Larry said...

You should see Man Push Cart, its got problems but it was his first and the cinema verite style really drives it. Think "Bicycle Thief" for the post 9/11 World. Not a lot of eternal optimism in that one though. Still I like Bahrani and I really enjoyed Goodbye Solo. Red West was fantastic.