Friday, February 15, 2008

King of California

King of California is from first time writer/director Mike Cahill... and you can tell that. The uniqueness of his voice is balanced out by the somewhat unpolished script. We shall get to that later...

Evan Rachel Wood plays Miranda as a 16 y/o that has had to grow up much too soon. Her mother ran off when she was little and her father Charlie (Michael Douglas) is just getting out of the psychiatric hospital after a 2 year stay. Miranda has had to drop out of high school to work in order to barely hold onto the family house. She has no one else in her life and seem a little excited to finally have some interaction even if it comes with consequences.

Charlie is a washed up blues musician that wasn't there as much as he probably should have during Miranda's childhood. He feels the guilt and wants to make it all right by finding a lost bounty of gold that he learns about through a priest's diary from the 17th century. Charlie becomes convinced he has cracked a code and takes Miranda on the hunt with him. Clearly this is the most bonding they've ever done and Miranda seems okay with humoring him.

King of California sounds like a breezy comic adventure and in some ways it is, however there are some very serious moments mixed in from Miranda's childhood along with a darkly comic scene involving an alternative lifestyle. There is an unexplained scene of Charlie trying to committ suicide that is never fully explained or addressed. That is where some of the inexperience seems to show in Mike Cahill. Several passages seem to be the victim of the cutting room with the whole film at barely 93 mins.

The two lead actors are quite experienced with these types of roles. Michael Douglas could do this role in his sleep with that being a compliment. He does succeed in giving Charlie that little twinkle that he needs to have to keep this story from being kind of a sad fable. Wood is marvelous as always even if she has a momentary bout of Kirsten Dunst Syndrome (AKA I can't act well enough to emote this scene so I'll just talk louder and move my hands a lot) during an intimate scene with Douglas in the middle of the film. For the most part though, she is quite good.

The film could have been better... but it has a lot of charming things about it. It almost feels like one of those Project Greenlight films that no doubt looks a lot strong in scripted form. Then the film gets made you start noticing the little imperfections in it. King of California has got a few of those sure...but Cahill gets a pass this time. Time will tell if he can truly stand out in this world as a filmmaker. It was probably using the Woody Guthrie/Wilco track "California Stars" that did it, but who knows...


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