Monday, July 19, 2010

Better luck next time

I sought out Goodbye Solo (2008) because of my admiration of the work of director Ramin Bahrani in Chop Shop and Man Push Cart. His work can be evocative with an understated dignity. He is especially good with children and with the use of objects to represent emotion, experience and longing.

But Goodbye Solo feels schematic, insufficiently worked-out and theoretical rather than observed. The film chronicles the meeting of a man who wants an immigrant taxi driver to drive him to the site of his planned suicide, and essentially, not to make a fuss. The driver wants to make a fuss. There's the plot. And while I understand that it is central to the film that it is not over-explained how the intended suicide got that way, that choice robs the film and the character of texture. I certainly wasn't expecting a "rubber duck": "I wants to kill myself cuz I can't go on since my wife died and I couldn't save her." (Although that particular cliche has a lot of truth in it.) But if I was the cab driver and I wanted to convince this man not to kill himself, I would have trouble coming up with reasons, given that I never know anything about him.

Oh, he has a grandson. That doesn't know he exists. Who he doesn't talk to. It's as if Bahrani is saying, "I can take any possible source of drama and eliminate it and STILL make a movie." Except that the most interesting things in the film, the driver's daughter and his wife, are almost peripheral to the whole thing.

It's a classic example of what I call a "doughnut" movie. It goes around and around its own subject matter, but as for actually delving into the subject--the choice to take one's own life--there's nothing there.

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