Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Goodbye Solo

I’m not sure which quality of “Goodbye Solo” I appreciate more. It’s a beautifully mysterious movie the likes of which I’ve seldom seen outside of art houses specializing in Italian movies about characters that vanish into thin air. It is also a movie about a very likeable, down-to-earth guy who just wants a better life for himself and his stepdaughter.

Both of these qualities really struck a chord with me both times I’ve watched it. I can’t remember any other movie that satisfied me on these two disparate levels at the same time. It’s like a thinking man’s heart warmer.

The movie opens with two men in a taxi cab. They are mid-ride and mid-conversation. Cabbie Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is immediately endearing. He’s a young man who has that sort of look, that sort of laugh. The much older William (Red West) is his fare. He’s a sharp contrast, grizzled and bitter. Solo listens as William offers him a huge advance to be his dedicated driver.

And, on a designated day, William tells him he will earn that advance by taking him on a one way trip to a windy mountain observation point. It’s a request that Solo will spend the rest of the movie coming to terms with. He wonders why a man, even an old and bitter one such as William, would want to end it all.

Solo takes the money. Heck, he certainly needs it. But will he be able to help a man commit suicide?

The two develop a relationship out of that chance meeting in Solo’s cab. Solo will learn about William and his past, but the information doesn’t come easily. This isn’t a movie of long, revealing speeches. Solo learns about William in fragments, an odd gesture, a slip of the tongue, a photograph in a coat pocket.

This puts us in the tantalizing position of playing detective. We work along with Solo, trying to figure out what makes William tick. And just when we and Solo think we have him figured out, he throws a mean left hook and decks us.

We and William also get to know Solo – and what a delight that is. He’s an immigrant from Senegal, still a work of the American dream in progress. The most cherished person in his life is his young stepdaughter Alex (played engagingly by newcomer Diana Franco Galindo). Everything Solo does, he does with highest hopes for her. William is visibly warmed by seeing them together. These are the only times we see through his tough exterior.

The movie’s most charming moments are between Solo and Alex. In one casually natural scene, Solo arrives home exhausted and collapses on Alex’s bed as she finishes her homework. Later, she helps him study. His dream is to become a flight attendant for a small airline. We feel their closeness as she quizzes him on the proper procedure for an emergency landing.

The movie opens by dropping us into the middle of a conversation, challenging us to quickly catch up with its characters, and it ends with a scene that allows us to sit back and wonder what happened. Was Solo able to change William’s mind, somehow, in the end? We don’t know for sure.

It’s a great ending. And maybe, just maybe, we’re offered a clue when William has a perfect opportunity to say “Goodbye Solo” and does not.

“Goodbye Solo” is rated R for language. It will screen at the Grand Theatres on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 3:00 and 5:30 as part of the Cinema 100 series. Tickets are available at the door.

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