By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Director Rahmin Bahrani has spent his career making American films that appear to be anything but. They more closely resemble film festival imports fromFrance,Iran, or Scandanavia: all subtlety, characterization, and a still life painter’s beauty in the mundane mindset. There’s not even one tiny, measly little explosion or bouncing pair of D’s to make it all worthwhile.
How about a serial killer? Give me something, anything, please!
Goodbye Solo continues Bahrani’s career-long fascination with immigrants in America, telling the story of Solo, a Senegalese cab driver in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who gets a strange request from William, a withdrawn old Southern man- cab him out to local landmark Blowing Rock, but don’t worry about the return trip.
If you’re an arthouse film buff, you may recognize the basic premise from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s masterpiece Taste of Cherry. Bahrani matches all of the beautiful humanistic touches of that film as well as its understated beauty in simplicity. This is evident right from the virtuoso opening scene, which is shot close and tight from the dash of Solo’s cab as William makes his proposal. Everything is laid out on the table immediately and realistically, from the plot to the core personalities of the main characters. I’d be hard pressed to find another film example that handles all of these tasks so well in such a short, contained fashion.
Basically, the fourth or fifth most depressing episode of Taxicab Confessions ever
The film branches off from there to immerse itself in the immigrant community ofWinston-Salem. Solo is incredibly charismatic and outgoing, and seems to know everybody, form local gangbangers to the Sudanese man who cleans the rooms of William’s hotel. He takes the old man under his wing after he agrees to the deal in an attempt to show him life is still worth living. In doing so, he begins to unravel the secret of the old man’s past and starts his own life, particularly his relationship with his Mexican wife and precocious stepdaughter, unraveling as well.
The two leads have to shoulder this movie, and they both deliver excellent performances. By the way, their real lives are even more interesting than those of their characters. Souleymane Sy Savane was a top African model and semi-pro basketball player before deciding to pursue hisHollywooddreams. Red West was a high school classmate of Elvis Presley, and a leading member of his Memphis Mafia of musicians and general ne’er-do-wells.
Their Krav Maga skills were legendary
One top of ace casting, Bahrani delivers a beautifully framed and shot film as always. Still, what must be toasted above all in this film is its heart. As Solo becomes more and more invested in William’s well being, despite the man’s constant attempts to push him away, you may start to wonder why Solo even bothers. The answer is that deep down, this film is a true love story- the platonic love for all mankind and its individual joys and tragedies that too few have. The world could use more Solos.
Bahrani loves upping realism by using non-pro actors, but the downside of that is that some lines that look good on paper get exposed by poor delivery, and take you out of the film for a few seconds.
I’ve seen this on a few lists of best films of the Aughts, and it’s not hard to see the argument. The story is heartbreaking, uplifting, and most importantly, real. It’ll be interesting to see how Ramin Bahrani translates his strengths to his next project… a NASCAR film starring Zac Efron?
Nope, not kidding.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Solo says “Big Dog” or uses curious slang
Take a Drink: every time suicide is hinted at or implied*
Do A Shot: every time Solo takes a punch
*So, maybe suicide plot + drinking isn’t the best of ideas for everyone…