Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good-bye Solo on DVD Today

With a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.8 stars out of 10 on IMDB and laudatory reviews from top critics, I was primed for some indie movie magic courtesy of Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo.

I was disappointed.

The movie takes the slight premise of a Senegalese cabbie named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) in North Carolina whose path crosses with a suicidal redneck named William (Red West) changing the lives of both men as they form an unlikely alliance. Solo is cheerful, chatty, charming while William is dour, dreary and downbeat. He hires Solo to drive him to a place known as Blowing Rock where he plans to end his life by jumping.

Given that the date is some time in the near but not immediate future, Solo attempts to cajole the recalcitrant curmudgeon from his plan. What follows is a classic example of what happens when an immovable object meets an irresistible force. It's not much of a spoiler to let you know that the immovable object remains immovable.

The film sets up the story in the first minute or so, but by giving William (and by extension, Solo) an extended time line, the film loses its urgency from the get-go. In addition, Solo's charms are not nearly as persuasive as William's depression. Well before the film's end I found myself wanting to drive him to Blowing Rock myself. And helping him with a good swift kick over the edge...

The film meanders aimlessly with scenes depicting Solo's love for life juxtaposed against William's inexorable march towards death. Lacking a sense of urgency, solid trajectory and saddled with stilted dialogue, it ends up being a string of vignettes which ultimately add up to not much. In other words, it's no Driving Miss Daisy. In fact, my friend Hollie wrote and filmed a short with a similar storyline that had much more emotional resonance.

But don't take my word for it. A. O. Scott loved it. As did Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan.

Or rent it, watch it and decide for yourself. The DVD complete with theatrical trailer and director's commentary is available today.

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