King of California (First Look International, PG-13)

king2.jpgBalancing Douglas’ erratic behavior and ramblings is the sincere and lovely Evan Rachel Wood in yet another great performance as Miranda, who has grown up too fast but is still a little girl tugging on her father’s pants leg in so many ways.

 

 

 

 

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King of California is what I’d call a "nice" or "sweet" film, by first-time screenwriter and director Mike Cahill. Though a tad overly sentimental at times, the superior portrayal of a father and daughter at odds by veteran Michael Douglas and burgeoning talent Evan Rachel Wood save what could have been a disaster in less capable hands.
A dark "dramedy" in the vein of indie-darling Little Miss Sunshine, King of California tells the story of highly eccentric hippie and jazz musician, Charlie, who has just been released after two years in a mental institution into the care of his 16-year-old daughter, Miranda. Miranda has fended for herself since her mother abandoned her and Charlie was institutionalized, dropping out of school and working double shifts at the local McDonald’s.

When Charlie is thrown back into Miranda’s life, his seemingly "crazy" ways both frustrate her and inject a level of excitement into her world that has been lacking since his departure. Charlie is convinced there is an ancient treasure belonging to a 17th century Spanish explorer buried under the local Costco. Despite her reluctance, Charlie drags Miranda into a quest for the treasure (and personal redemption) that will leave them both richer in some way.
Douglas’ tender and, at times, deranged portrayal of Charlie could earn him an Oscar nod. But be warned: this is not the smooth-talking Douglas as Wall Street king Gordon Gecko, or the object of desire for sex-pots like Glenn Close and Sharon Stone, or even the slovenly yet still ruggedly sexy writer of Wonder Boys. No, this is a whole different Michael Douglas. This is Michael Douglas does Nick Nolte’s mug shot with a touch of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, eyes gone wild. It’s unexpected, and it shows his talents in a whole new light.

Yet if it weren’t for Douglas’ empathetic and charming turn as Charlie, this somewhat formulaic story would not work as well. After all, the middle-aged crazy yet lovably visionary thing has been done before by some of the best (see Robin Williams in The Fisher King or Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman). But Douglas manages to pull it off and makes us feel for this character.

Balancing Douglas’ erratic behavior and ramblings is the sincere and lovely Evan Rachel Wood in yet another great performance as Miranda, who has grown up too fast but is still a little girl tugging on her father’s pants leg in so many ways. It’s actually nice to see her in a PG-13 role with a bit more innocence after the almost painful to watch Thirteen and her recent blood-covered turn in boyfriend Marilyn Manson’s new music video.

This film may not be the best picture of the year, but it definitely contains some of the best performances, and it is entertaining. It also leaves the viewer with a smile and a sense of calm resolution, which is nice in a world full of real craziness. | Amy Burger

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