After missing the press screenings and then reading all the glowing reviews of Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo -- some of which hailed Bahrani as the next great American filmmaker -- I bought a ticket in Manhattan yesterday to see what all the fuss was about.
I'm still wondering.
Turgid and uneventful, built around two characters of opposite demeanor whose paths temporarily reach a confluence, Goodbye Solo is another under-paced, under-dramatized film that falls into "neo-neo-realism" category that A.O. Scott went on about at such great lengths in a recent Sunday Times magazine piece.
But like other titles he cited -- films like the wildly overrated Ballast, "Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy and the early films of David Gordon Green -- Goodbye Solo is a movie about nothing that wants you to think it's about something. Buy tickets to these films at your own peril.
Goodbye Solo is about a taxi driver named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) in Winston-Salem, N.C. A native of Senegal, he dreams of putting taxi-driving behind him for the glam life of a flight attendant.
When first seen, he's driving a cranky elderly customer named William. The customer tells him that, a week or so hence, he wants Solo to drive him to Blowing Rock -- an area attraction. He'll pay him $1,000 for a one-way fare. The implication is that he wants to go there to jump off but, like many things in this dreary, indistinct film, that's left to your imagination.
William is played by Red West, once Elvis Presley's bodyguard and part of his Memphis Mafia. West has a baleful stare which, aside from the occasional "Leave me alone," is all he has to offer Solo. Yet Solo butts into his life and looks into his past, hoping that he can offer some glimmer of hope for the future to divert William from his intended path.
There's also a lot of business about Solo's fractious relationship with his pregnant Hispanic wife -- but it offers little of substance, either. Like the William plot thread, it goes nowhere.
But that's a trademark of this neo-neo-realism. These movies are not about much of anything; no one says much of anything; and no one does much of anything. Say what you will about the so-called mumblecore school of filmmaking -- with its slapdash aesthetic and endless self-regarding conversations -- but at least those movies seem to have something on their minds, beyond creating a mood.
Goodbye Solo, however, is a thin character study over which critics wank themselves into a state of ecstasy at all the meaning they can superimpose on the film -- sort of the way people imagined that the emperor was wearing beautiful clothes.
I'm not saying that movies about nothing can't be entertaining. I still dearly love David Lynch's Eraserhead and Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise -- neither of which has anything like a plot and both of which are as much about atmosphere as anything else. But Goodbye Solo -- and Wendy and Lucy and Ballast and the rest of these oat-bran-flavored movies -- just don't cut it.
I won't go so far as to call them frauds, because I'm sure the filmmakers meant well. That would also imply a much greater degree of intent and inspiration than any of these sad-sack excursions into cinematic dreariness seem to have.
So let's just call Goodbye Solo the most overrated movie of the year.
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