Friday, June 19, 2009

Goodbye Solo

"Goodbye Solo" is Ramin Bahrani's follow-up to his previous success "Chop Shop," a sad film about a young auto mechanic and his sister living in New York. Set in the director's home state of North Carolina, specifically Winston-Salem, "Solo" doesn't measure up exactly, but it still has a lot of good going for it. It chronicles the relationship between optimistic, outgoing, Senegal-born cab driver Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) and one of his "valued customers," a sad, shaken old man named William (Red West). It goes to show that the casting is top-notch, also in the way that Diana Franco Galindo was chosen to play Solo's Hispanic stepdaughter Alex who he is teaching French (as I believe that language is one that they speak in Senegal).

Since Solo is a naturally cheerful individual, he tries to change William's mind about committing suicide on a mountain, while trying to get a job as a flight attendant, and to help his wife. Savane is a talented and charismatic actor, and his work here is stunning and affecting. West is less impressive, but still puts in enough and a little more to keep things on track. There's also something about the film and the setting that also quite appealing. It's hard to describe, but perhaps it is the combined force of Savane, West, and Galindo.

Somehow, however, this venture seemed to be lacking something. There was not as much of a punch as Bahrani's previous work, and the story seemed to go pretty much unfulfilled. Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi, his screenwriting partner, go 90% of the way to where they need to be. The 10% is a pretty glaring omission. For "Goodbye Solo" to be a full film, there needed to be a little more fleshing-out involved. Don't get me wrong: the opening sequence was one of my favorite film moments of the year. The absence of non-diegetic music was refreshing as it always is. And Savane's performance might end up being a real contender (unfortunately, I think chances may be slim due to the release date and the lack of Academy-style appeal). There just wasn't enough. It needed to be 10-20 minutes longer, and possibly that time could be used to establish backstory between the two leads. That block wasn't there, which doesn't render the film mediocre. It's a very good film, and almost a fantastic one. B+

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