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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Goodbye Solo and the "Neo-Neo Realism"

Goodbye Solo (2009)

Yesterday I saw the best movie I've seen in a theater so far this year- Goodbye Solo. It's by Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, whose movie Chop Shop made by top 10 list last year. His past two movies (Chop Shop and Man Push Cart, which I hope to see soon) concerned immigrants living in the shadows of New York City. Goodbye Solo is set in Winston-Salem, NC, where Bahrani grew up, and it tells a similarly naturalistic story. The movie is about Solo, a Senegalese cab driver who begins a relationship with William, a bitter old man who becomes one of his passengers.

Solo is married to a Mexican woman and is a good father to her daughter. He is also friends with Caucasions, African-Americans, and other African immigrants. One of the wonderful things about this movie is how multiculturalism is simply presented as it is lived, and not as a plot point or an easy way to a moral. The movie is deeply moral, I believe, but not moralistic. The viewer is never sure where the movie is going, and there are many scenes and surprise and delight. The last 10 or so minutes are absolutely riveting and beautiful. There are a few clunky plot devices and characters that could use a little fleshing out, but these flaws are overcome by the beauty and simplicity of the filmmaking. They manage to be both sad and hopeful. This movie is just leaving theaters, but should be on DVD before too long. I urge you to check it out.

Grade: A-

In reading other review of Goodbye Solo, I came across an excellent article by A.O. Scott about the "Neo-Neo Realism" in American films. The article concerns the advent of a naturalistic style of American independent filmmaking. These films are not about the quirkiness of their characters, and they are often done without a conventional scores. Examples that I have thoroughly enjoyed included Bahrani's films as well as Wendy and Lucy and Half Nelson. What is so great about many of these movies is that they portray lives of everyday Americans in a dignified way. With each of these films, I felt that I was seeing people who really existed, and people I had never really seen in films before. I'm thrilled at this new trend in American cinema, and I certainly hope it continues.

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