King of California ****
Directed by Mike Cahill
It's hard to describe the large amount of love I had for Mike Cahill's directing and screenwriting debut "King of California." It is so layered. It is absolutely hilarious on many different levels. It is touching and has quite a poignant ending. It tells a wonderful father daughter love story. And it is an adventure picture, and at times quite mysterious. And its also one of the best films of the year, and one of my personal favorites at the festival.
Michael Douglas gives one of the best performances he's done in years, and could quite possibly earn an Oscar nomination, but I doubt it really. He plays Charlie, a man who has just gotten out of the mental house and moves back in with his daughter, Miranda-played well by the very pretty Evan Rachael Wood. Miranda is sixteen and has been on her own for the last two years, with no parents, but a job and a car that she bought on eBay. Out of the nuthouse, Charlie begins to act odd again, and Miranda begins to get worried. Charlie tries to convince her that when he was away he came across an ancient journal by a Spanish explorer named Father Torres, and the journal has a map that leads to a buried treasure. Miranda plays along with this little act of Charlies, but misses how serious he was about the whole thing. There is only one thing standing in their way-the so called treasure is buried six feet under a CostCo in the area, but the granite is not thick enough to stop Charlie.
The real heart of the movie is not the search for buried treasure, but the relationship between Charlie and Miranda, the closest thing the film has to a love story. At one point I was worried that there would be a love interest introduced for Miranda, which certainly would have cheapened and made the film not quite as special. Here are two people that do love each other, but have odd ways to showing it. Miranda cares about Charlie-not to the point where she calls him Dad, but to the point where she'll slice the thick rope he is using to hang himself from a light-and Charlie cares for Miranda, but to the extent where he'll sell her car to pay for treasure hunting gear. And they play off each other in such a natural and unforced way, leading to an ending that steers very far away from being corny, and has one of the most touching and sweet scenes I've seen all year-this scene involves a Coke machine, which gives away literally zero of the plot. It's such a funny film as well, especially the extended treasure hunting scene that is the majority of the third act. It all just works so well.
I wouldn't be giving this film justice if I didn't mention the music, a cross between light rock and instrumental Spanish adventure music, which is all done perfectly. It reminded me a bit of the music in the summer film "Rocket Science," except it was odd in a less forced way. I never felt like the film was TRYING to be quirky, it just became that way because it was. But at the same time, it ended up being quite the social commentary about things in California. The best and funniest scenes in the film are when the two of them are on the same path that Father Torres went on, only instead of seeing the river and trees, they see Chuck E. Cheese and PetCo. Charlie is a classic representation of the way America used to be-full of spirit and adventure. Full with the chances to try something new, instead of being thrown into conformity. He is here to try to keep that ideal alive, and there is something quite special in how he is trying to bring those qualities to his daughter, who already has a job at McDonald's to pay the cost of living.