Saturday, June 14, 2008

King of California: Grade A

King of California (2007)
Evan Rachel Wood, Michael Douglas; Writer-Director Mike Cahill.

Douglas gives a terrific performance as a geezer just released from a mental institution to his 17 year old daughter (Wood). She has been driving her beat-up Volvo to work at McDonalds in a California suburb, just getting by. We see in flashbacks that their 100 year old house was once a jewel in rolling agricultural acres, but now is a sore thumb in an endless sea of unimaginative tract homes. Charlie, her dad, believes he has discovered a map to golden treasure, buried nearby by early Spanish explorers. He schemes to find it, even selling the Volvo and the house to finance his exploration. The best line in the movie is the daughter’s incredulous outrage: “What? Are you nuts?” He stares at her. She says quietly, “Sorry.” He actually does not seem to be psychotic, only slightly delusional, and who isn’t these days? That ambiguity makes it plausible that she would become Panza to his Quixotic search for the maybe-gold. The ending is accordingly ambiguous as well. We are half-convinced there might be gold, but finally we realize it doesn’t matter. The point is that she is able to re-establish her relationship with her father during the adventure. The movie is also a cry of anguish over the squalor of cookie-cutter “development” that relentlessly buries the treasure of natural beauty under concrete and commerce. It is a surprisingly sensitive performance from Douglas, and first rate from Wood, too.

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