Review: ‘Goodbye Solo’ captures depth of unexpected relationships
September 10, 2009
“Crash,” the 2004 film that earned the Oscar for best picture, made the point that, in our multi-cultural globalized society, human beings from various stations in life would unintentionally bump into one another. There would be conflict and ultimately resolution, maybe even understanding.
“Goodbye Solo” offers a different point of view – in a way, the opposite one from “Crash.” In the third feature by director Ramin Bahrani, people with different skin colors, who speak different languages, of varying ages, who look at the world differently, still collide one another, often unexpectedly, and not with the people who would be our first choice.
But here, the encounter is purposeful. Bahrani, and co-writer Bahareh Azimi, show us that connecting is part of our nature, something we can’t keep ourselves from doing. And rather than going with our first instinct – to untangle ourselves from this odd-seeming creature – we convince ourselves to stick it out, have a glimpse of what this other person is about.
We get a full-range experience of our two principal colliders in the very first scene. Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is a 40-ish African taxi driver in Winston-Salem, N.C. His customer at the moment, one he has apparently had some history with, is William (Red West), a cranky, old, white man – and, with his beet-red face and bloodshot eyes, probably an alcoholic.
William is proposing a business deal: In a few weeks time, he wants Solo to drive him out to a mountain in North Carolina and leave him there. For this, he offers a deposit of $200. Solo presses William on his intentions, but William gives the first of many stony non-responses. The audience is left with the obvious answer, that William is going to leap to his death.
Solo assumes the same. But the hope of preventing a suicide doesn’t seem to be the only reason that Solo keeps William in his life. There is a financial factor, in that William is a frequent customer, and has offered an extravagant amount for the ride to Blowing Rock. Another practical consideration arises when Solo leaves his pregnant mate, Quiera, and plops himself and his one bag of belongings in William’s motel room. But there is more: Solo wants friendship, connection. He craves it. William needs the same, and though in his case it is more grudging, he doesn’t quite cut his ties to Solo.
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Bahrani – whose last film was the award-winning “Chop Shop,” another drama about life well outside America’s mainstream – fleshes out this simple story of an unexpected relationship in several ways. For one, Solo is not just the good-natured foil to bitter William. Solo lies to his lady, has a drug dealer for a best friend, talks excessively, manipulates and gets moody. He is a complex character, and Savane, a former runway model and African TV star, does a knockout job with him.
And there are other relationships. William has an estranged grandson whom he can’t bring himself to speak with, but has an obvious affection for.
Finally there is Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), Quiera’s daughter, who has a close, warm relationship with Solo. Alex, like most 8-year-olds, is dying for a cell phone so she can call and text friends, send photos. She gets her cell phone – but we see that a cell-phone relationship lacks something that Solo and William, who share a cab, a motel room, pool tables and arguments, have.