I feel so torn writing about this film. This is Bahrani’s most lauded film, right? I loved so many things about it too. The performances are great. Solo is an incredibly magnetic and likable character and he’s really completely realized with weaknesses et al. Feels completely human at all times. Red West is just amazing – the best performance in the film for me and an early favorite for performance of the year even. I thought he was flawless as William in this film. The little girl is really good as well. The wife is perhaps the weakest link but she didn’t ruin the film for me or anything.

Despite that, I think the feeling I came out of the theater with is still one of disappointment Sad. I loved both Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, especially the former and I went in to this movie hoping to come back and nominate it for a bunch of Filmspots. It’s a good film and I suspect most people who liked the earlier films will like this one as well. But somehow, this just didn’t have the same kind of impact for me. For one, I think, his need for plot and drama is even more apparent in this film or maybe it was just more jarring for me here. There’s a particular point in the film where something is revealed to the audience and that really took me out of the real and natural world that Bahrani is able to sustain otherwise. Like in Man Push Cart, here again, I’d have been very happy seeing Solo just doing his job, meeting people, hanging out with his family and friends and so on. I’d even have been happy with him and William hanging out and talking about music and such. It’s when Bahrani tries to bring in a lot of story and create suspense and tension that the film didn’t work for me so much.

Don’t get me wrong. The film is still very good. There’re great performances and I really love Bahrani’s naturalistic style. I also love the beginning of this film — the idea that he chooses to plunge us straight into the story and spend the time developing the relationship between these characters instead of spending time on setup. I really think he does a great job of choosing not just what he wants to show us but more importantly what he doesn’t choose to show (Pork Chop for instance). There’re a couple of fabulous scenes in the movie that paint a really rich and vivid picture of William’s past without going into any major specifics. These are all things he is able to do so well — this sense of place and this idea of giving us just enough information about a character for us to be able to build up a story for them without getting too expository about it. I just wish he had left it at that and hadn’t felt the need to show us more.

So far, my personal ranking is Man Push Cart > Chop Shop > Goodbye Solo.

Some really lovely shots though.. especially like the static shot at the end.

Bahrani took questions after the film and turned out to be a really articulate and likable guy. He said he thought about Rossellini’s film, The Flowers of St.Francis, quite a bit while writing this film and that a lot of the film was written during the height of the Iraq war. He said the film was inspired by a cab driver he got to know really well in his hometown, i.e. Winston, NC and that the cab driver refused to be in the film just when they were about to start shooting. He shared some trivia about Red West’s life and personality and the fact that Souleymane Sy Savane had actually worked as a flight attendant for a while. The woman who played Pork Chop was a real-life cab dispatcher (fun anecdote related to that as well).
He was asked a lot of questions about the debate between AO Scott and Richard Brody. He didn’t seem to embrace the neo-neo-realism term per se but did acknowledge that he wanted his films to be natural and documentary-like and that he preferred not to use very complicated camerawork that might distract from the story being told. He also talked a bit about his preference for actors that are not as well-known because he thinks that the audience is able to better relate to these unknown actors leading to a different sort of emotional impact from the film.
I liked him quite a bit. He seemed to love being able to talk to people about films and seemed unabashedly in love with human beings in general. He did display a lot of disdain for Hollywood though and dissed a bunch of other independent films (including Little Miss Sunshine, The Visitor and so on). That whole thing was amusing to me Smiley.
He’s a nice-looking chap though in a nerdy, boyish sort of way. I liked him quite a bit.

We also got to watch one of his short films from 1998 called Backgammon which seemed very amateurish and wasn’t very good imo. Some bad performances and rather heavy-handed albeit sweet conceptually perhaps.

Grade: C+