In Ramin Bahrani’s first two features, Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, the vibrant detail of fresh locales and daily hustles mitigated threadbare scripts and touch-and-go nonpro performances. Goodbye Solo relies on forced character dynamics and two clunkily directed, monotonous turns, in a milieu—a cabbie’s spread-out North Carolina territory—that fails to take satisfactory shape.
Upbeat chatterbox Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané) has agreed to drive watery-eyed curmudgeon William (Red West) to a far-flung mountain ridge at an appointed date. He can’t get a straight answer from old grumpy boots about what he’s up to, and keeps getting sidetracked by his own separation from his wife (a patched-together piece of background which never adds up). Just as the vendor in Man Push Cart had to be a former pop star, and the sister in Chop Shop had to be turning tricks, so does Bahrani once again overreach here—dangling William’s deathwish practically from frame one.
The mannered melancholy of William’s approaching fate might be more bearable without Savané on the case. His grating garrulity, punctuated by po-faced pauses, can’t conceal a fundamental void in the actor’s presence, while West is hemmed in by an overdetermined role. Bahrani again shows his flair for uncharted sociological terrain—in this case, the off-the-radar experiences of immigrants in rural areas—but hitches it to an unnecessary conceit.