Goodbye Solo

"Excellent"

Goodbye Solo Review


You think you've seen this movie. Irascible old codger (white, of course), who doesn't need or care about any other human being on the planet, gets his ice-cold heart thawed by a fireball of empathy (maybe a child, or a colorful minority) who comes bounding into his life. There are indeed elements of that movie floating to the surface from time to time in Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo, but fortunately they tend to get slapped to the side by the vision (yes, we can call it that) of a filmmaker with better things on his mind.

A film that almost dares you to call it "heartwarming," makes you regret even thinking the term, and then finally creeps up on you in a way that is, indeed, heartwarming, before it then becomes heartbreaking, Goodbye Solo makes striking cinema out of that hoariest of clichés -- the unlikely friendship. Bahrani and his co-writer Bahareh Azimi start the film in mid-sentence, with the irascible old codger in the back seat of a cab driving through the Winston-Salem night, barking at the grinning Senegalese driver, "Why are you laughing?" As we'll soon come to discover, the first part of an answer to the old man's question is that laughter is the default modus operandi for the driver, a blithe spirit by the name of Solo (the ridiculously charming Souléymane Sy Savané, with a grin like a glass of ice tea on a hot day).

But really Solo is laughing because he doesn't understand why the old man -- a crusty ex-biker of few words and few emotions besides irritated silence named William and played to perfection by character actor and ex-Elvis Presley bodyguard Red West -- wants to be driven all the way out to Blowing Rock mountaintop. Then, when William refuses to answer Solo's questions about why he wants to go out there, a look into the old man's bleak and exhausted face tells Solo all that he needs to know. From that point on, it becomes Solo's full-throttle but hardly thought-out mission to make William an integral part of his life (one already crowded with a daughter, a quite questionable friend, an angry and pregnant wife, and a dream to become a flight attendant), and to bring him around to believing that there remain things worth living for.

Stylistically and linguistically, Bahrani is a minimalist, which makes for a nice balance with the warm and complex humanism of his story. In his streetlight-lit nighttime scenes, the cabs prowl lonely streets and the impulsively gregarious Solo knows and talks to everybody yet seems just as lonely a spirit as the one he is trying to save. The stereotyped story we're expecting would have set up Solo as the warm fount of worldly wisdom (think Jeffrey Wright in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers) counterposed to William's cold dry whiteness. (And indeed Bahrani has Solo giving William the full press, taking him out for drinks at the pool hall and practically inviting him to move into his house, sparing no generosity.) But in that story, the immigrant is always the outsider. Goodbye Solo is told from the immigrant's point of view, from which whites seem few and far between, even in a small Southern city. In this world, the flint-hard William is the alien presence, and the one quite possibly responsible for saving Solo, not the other way around.

The clean and simple, leisurely-paced style is in many ways pure American indie, redolent at times of Jarmusch's Night on Earth. But what Bahrani has over his contemporaries is no need for quirk and affectation. He also shows an ability to wrest potent performances out of actors who seem to be doing very little. This is particularly evidenced by a scene late in the film wherein a single, pleading look between William and Solo packs an emotive gut-punch that few directors could manage without a soaring soundtrack or manipulative dialogue.

Yes, Goodbye Solo is the tale of an unlikely friendship, one that reaches across generational and cultural barriers, but for once that actually means it's a reason to see the film, not avoid it.

Hello Luke.



Goodbye Solo

Facts and Figures

Run time: 91 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 26th August 2009

Box Office USA: $0.8M

Distributed by: Roadside Attractions

Production compaines: Gigantic Pictures, ITVS, Lucky Hat Entertainment, Noruz Films (I)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 97 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Jason Orans,

Starring: as Solo, as William, Diana Franco Galindo as Alex, Lane 'Roc' Williams as Roc, Mamadou Lam as Mamadou, Carmen Leyva as Quiera

Also starring:

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