Goodbye Solo – 5 stars (loved it)

goodbye soloRamin Bahrani has the ability to do so much with so little. His budgets are small. His stories are intimate. His actors are unknown. Despite what lesser filmmakers see as obstacles, Bahrani is able to push past any sort of problems and continually make great films. The first movie I saw directed by him was “Chop Shop,” a small powerful film about a brother and sister attempting to overcome extreme poverty. His latest film, “Goodbye Solo,” is just as powerful.

Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is a cab driver living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Bahrani’s homeland). He is an immigrant from Africa that has dreams of becoming a flight attendant. No, this isn’t a comedy. Solo lives with his girlfriend, Quiera (Carmen Leyva), and her daughter, Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), who he has accepted as his own. He and his girlfriend are expecting but having a rough go at the relationship. Eventually she throws him out because of what she considers his foolish dream. During the course of his cab driving, he meets an elderly man named William (Red West).

William is one of his regular customers although he doesn’t like small talk and is a little abrasive to Solo. Solo tries his best to break down the wall that William has put up, and he is surprised one night when William offers him $1000 to drive him to Blowing Rock where it is said the wind blows straight up into the sky. The only catch is that William needs only a one-way ticket.

Solo is concerned that William wants to kill himself so he brings it upon himself to befriend him and convince him to do otherwise. After he is kicked out of his girlfriend’s home, Solo talks his way into staying with William in his hotel room. Eventually the wall begins to come down and they enter into a strange but genuine friendship.

The movie is full of heart. Bahrani doesn’t mind simply letting the camera linger on after a scene is over, and the effect is strangely powerful. It allows us to step back and observe what is happening without stopping to explain everything to us through unnecessary exposition. Solo never comes out and says he thinks William is going to kill himself, but we know that he does. By doing this Bahrani is allowing us to become intimate with his characters. We’re getting to know them instead of being told about them.

As the movie goes on we learn more and more about William and his motives for going to Blowing Rock, and we learn more and more about Solo, too. Solo is an intelligent, caring and persistent man with a smile that could penetrate Darkness itself, and William is quiet, thoughtful, and a deeper man than we realize at first. The two living and riding around together make for some funny and extremely touching scenes, but Bahrani keeps it from becoming parody or comedy with an African immigrant and an old crotchety man striking up a friendship a la “The Odd Couple.” And Alex continues to stay close to Solo after he moves out and eventually becomes close to William, too, viewing him as a grandfather figure.

None of the actors are known and many are appearing here in their first performances. They are all exactly right for their roles. The screenplay (by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi) and direction by Bahrani are superb. He takes such a small story and breathes life into it. When the credits roll at the end we hope that the cameras continue to follow the characters. We care about them and want to see where their lives take them, and it’s all because of Bahrani.

If you think I’m drooling over Bahrani a little too much, it is obvious that you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing one of his films. He is the next great American director. “Goodbye Solo” is a great place to start if you’ve never seen one of his films. His lingering cameras and slow unraveling of his stories may take some getting used to at first, but stick with it. It’s worth it. “Goodbye Solo” is one of the best films of the year, and you don’t want to miss it.

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 91 minutes

Starring: Souleymane Sy Savane (Solo); Red West (William); Diana Franco Galindo (Alex); Carmen Leyva (Quiera)

Directed by: Ramin Bahrani; written by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi; produced by Bahrani and Jason Orans. A Roadside Attractions release.


~ by reeltoreel on October 29, 2009.

4 Responses to “Goodbye Solo – 5 stars (loved it)”

  1. I REALLY need to see this now. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I agree entirely with your review- Do you enjoy the works of David Gordon Green?

    • I’ll be honest. The only thing I’ve seen from him is “Pineapple Express.” But I did love that movie. Does that count? 🙂

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