Young And Old, Driven 'Solo' Beyond Themselves

Souleymane Sy Savane i i

Driving Spirit: Souleymane Sy Savane plays Solo, a Senegalese immigrant who drives a cab in North Carolina. Roadside Attractions hide caption

itoggle caption Roadside Attractions
Souleymane Sy Savane

Driving Spirit: Souleymane Sy Savane plays Solo, a Senegalese immigrant who drives a cab in North Carolina.

Roadside Attractions

Goodbye Solo

  • Director: Ramin Bahrani
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 91 minutes

Unrated

(Recommended)

Red West, Souleymane Sy Savane i i

Journeymen: William reluctantly houses Solo in his motel room. Roadside Attractions hide caption

itoggle caption Roadside Attractions
Red West, Souleymane Sy Savane

Journeymen: William reluctantly houses Solo in his motel room.

Roadside Attractions

Solo, the Senegalese immigrant who drives a cab through the rougher parts of a North Carolina town in Ramin Bahrani's soulful movie Goodbye Solo, is blessed with a face of Christ-like beauty and an expressive range to match. When he smiles, the world grows lighter and hums around him; on the rare occasions when life brings him down, it settles like sand and grows dark.

As gracefully played by actor Souléymane Sy Savané, Solo has a disposition so sunny and so porous to new experience that you'd swear he shared a gene pool with the heroine of Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky.

So it's not altogether farfetched that in the first two minutes of Goodbye Solo, the cheerful cabbie will befriend a gruff, rheumy-eyed geezer named William (Red West, whose sprawling resume lists everything from TV bit parts to a stint as Elvis Presley's bodyguard).

William offers Solo a solid chunk of change for a trip to the mountains in two weeks' time, from which the driver infers that the old gent is planning to kill himself.

Solo, of course, makes it his mission to save William, and we spend the rest of the cunningly titled Goodbye Solo watching an unlikely friendship ebb and flow between these two radically different men.

Solo drags the reluctant William to his home, which he shares with his Mexican wife (Carmen Leyva) and his lively stepdaughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), whom he adores.

He tracks William's comings and goings, hijacks his pills and takes them to a pharmacist for analysis, and snoops on William as he repeatedly engages a fresh-faced movie-theater cashier in awkward chitchat.

When Solo's wife, exasperated by his determination to become a flight attendant, throws him out, the driver even crashes in the hotel room where William lives — and gets thrown out of there, too, for meddling. Solo has his American dream, you see, and he can't see that William is done with dreams, not to mention regrets.

That the relationship will transform both men is a given, but if you're too well schooled in small indie pics about opposites attracting — and then refreshing each other's reason to live — it's not what you might think.

If, on the other hand, you're familiar with Ramin Bahrani's justly acclaimed first two films, Chop Shop and Man Push Cart, you'll know that this young director redefines what counts as surprise in movies.

Born and raised in the United States, Bahrani lived and studied for several years in his parents' native Iran. And it's not hard to see the influence on his work of Abbas Kiarostami's A Taste of Cherry, which is no more — and pointedly no less — than the tale of a man who drives around looking for a suitable place to commit suicide.

In Goodbye Solo, as in that movie, it's the silences that count, and the surprises are craftily embedded in the editing. Each new cut, or cut away, nudges you to reinterpret what you've just seen, until you come to realize, along with one of these two men, that the momentous decision made by the other is an existential rather than a therapeutic choice.

Which is another way of saying that it's hard to imagine a less American denouement than that of Goodbye Solo. But look again, and you'll see that in this fraught encounter between a spent old American and an immigrant seething with plans and hope, Bahrani has rewritten the script of the encounter between white and black, between old and new America — less as a battle between mutually uncomprehending cultures than as a passing of the baton that opens the field for a post-Obama nation to reinvent itself, and get on with building a new world.

Or, to put it as concretely as Bahrani does himself: After unwittingly witnessing the most profound event she's ever likely to experience, Solo's irrepressible young Alex is ready for two scoops of ice cream.

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