‘Goodbye Solo’ features an unlikely bond

From the get-go, Ramin Bahrani’s moving third feature film, “Goodbye Solo,” (2008) illustrates a powerful story about two men on the opposite spectrum of life. The movie begins with a conversation between a warm and cheery black taxi driver, who is offered a unnerving proposition by a significantly older irritable white man. 

Solo, played by Souleymane Sy Savane, is an optimistic Senegalese cab driver in the burnt-out city of Winston-Salem, N.C. Solo, who is looking to get a slice of the American Dream, picks up a grumpy white southerner named William, who is played by Red West, in his taxi. 

One of the most compelling scenes of the film comes during the opening. William offers Solo a large sum of money to take him to a place called Blowing Rock, which is way into the mountains. William asks, it would seem, with no intention of returning. Solo then asks William, “What are you going to do, jump off?” When William responds with an unnerving silence, the coils of film that are set to subtly explore the human connection become undone.  

Solo is too intrigued by William to leave him alone, though, and asks the dispatchers at his taxi firm to assign all of William’s rides to him. Solo is a charismatic man simply trying to make it in life. 

Though he is determined to give up his cab and become a flight attendant, Solo faces opposition from his spouse, Quiera, played by Carmen Leyva. Solo is also supported by the rather warm and childish cheerleading from his stepdaughter, Alex, who is used as a voice of innocence throughout the film. 

The film is not a study of the two men though. Instead, it is an examination of who they are at the present time. Solo’s 21st century warm vernacular is juxtaposed by William’s closed-off, southern demeanor. But their relationship is something that develops like the relationship between an old, tired dog and an eager, playful puppy. 

Through his eagerness to learn and understand more about William, Solo is pushed back by the ever-grumpy southerner, who the audience never really learns much about. But this is not necessary. Instead, the audience can take what it can from the film through the film’s transcendental scenes, the interaction between the two men and the gradual but evident change in the characters. 

Bahrani is known for exploring themes such as immigrant struggles, as was the case with his first two films “Man Push Cart,” which is the story of a Pakistani rock star who sells bagels from a food vending cart, and “Chop Shop,” which tells the story of a 12-year-old orphan working in the scrap yards of Queens, N.Y. However, with these heavy subject matters, the underlying stories are a simple examination of how people live within their environments. This, in turn, opens the door for people to achieve a self-reflective state. 

The acting itself is simple and colloquial, with unknown indie actors playing big roles in real-life settings. They are thrust into compelling and intricately woven stories. “Goodbye Solo” is no different.

In fact, the real background stories of the male actors parallel the lives of the characters they are portraying in the film. Souleymane Sy Savane is an Ivorian immigrant who never landed an acting job until 10 years after he had arrived in the United States. Additionally, Red West was Elvis Presley’s long time bodyguard, once breaking the foot of Presley’s drug supplier. In choosing these actors, Bahrani opens a very realistic window into the lives of the characters, overall justifying Ebert’s praise that this film is indeed “a force of nature!”

Eliseo is a freshman in FAA. He can be reached at [email protected]