Douglas role worthy of "King"

10/16/2007

King of California
Director: Mike Cahill
Cast: Michael Douglas, Evan Rachel Wood, Greg Davis, Jr., Angel Oquendo
Rating: PG-13 for some language.

By Gregg Tubbs
UMC.org

We all have bit of the foolish dreamer in us, but in the delightful and knowing new comedy, King of California, Michael Douglas, plays a man who doesn’t know where his dreams of glory end and reality begins.

As Charlie, a bi-polar part-time jazz musician and full-time schemer, Douglas gives one of his best and warmest performances. And he’s matched scene for scene by young Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen), who plays Charlie’s down-to-earth daughter and is slowly swept up in his magical, alternative view of a world that has become mundane and gray. Charley sees adventure and treasure around every corner, and though it may not be logical, what is life without dreams?

Bereft of both her parents — her mother abandoned her at an early age and her manic-depressive father is in a mental institution — 16-year-old Miranda (Wood) gets by the best she can. She quit school to pay the bills and keep the old family house from foreclosure, even as her once rural Southern California valley gets swallowed up by mini-mansions and big box stores. Working the night-shift at McDonalds and driving a wheezing Volvo, Miranda has carved out a tenuous, but quiet life for her self. Although her father Charlie (Douglas) brought love and excitement to her life, his presence also brought chaos and instability. She misses him, but ruefully admits that life is easier without him.

Charlie is brilliant, but delusional. As a historian, entrepreneur and accomplished bassist, he had “already led several lives” before being surprised by fatherhood, a role he tried his best to fulfill. But more often than not, it was Miranda who was raising him, rather than the other way around. After a lifetime of failure and disappointing Miranda, Charlie swears he’s going to make it right after he is released. But instead of doing something responsible like getting a job, he becomes consumed with yet another manic dream — buried treasure from an ancient Spanish mission. Miranda has seen it all before — the scheming, the wild-eyed excitement and signs of obsession. But this time, could things be different? And is it possible that her own life could use some magic, even if it is an impossible dream?

Armed with a metal detector and ancient journals, Charlie and the reluctant Miranda retrace the steps of Spanish explorer Father Juan Garces looking for the buried treasure. Ultimately, their quest proves to be more about discovering one another than finding treasure. Writer/director Mike Cahill is primarily a novelist, which serves him well here, because the story focuses on character development and relationships. Charlie needs to redeem himself in the eyes of Miranda — to finally be called “dad” instead of Charlie. Miranda needs to peel away years of disappointment and accept her father for who he is.

What surfaces is a film about the need to follow your dreams, to have something to believe in and reach for that gives your life purpose. And conversely, the film also raises the question of whether anyone has the right to squash another person’s dreams. Charlie tells Miranda that all his previous failures have been preparing him to do something great, but later realizes that he was really preparing to do something great for her and through her. His obsession has become driven by the love he’s always felt for her, both as his daughter and as the only “grownup” in the house who cared for him. Perhaps the most touching element of the movie is Miranda's rediscovery of her love for her father, no matter how flawed he may be. Charlie prefers to see magic amid the mundane, and who’s to say his way is wrong? Isn’t hope in the unseen the essence of faith? And Miranda comes to realize that there is more to life than just getting by. She learns how important it is to have hope and to dream.

Although writer/director Cahill says he was inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” I couldn’t help seeing the influence of Cervantes, who took his own life of peril and disappointment and poured it into his creation of Don Quixote, the disillusioned country squire who rejected a meaningless life and embraced the fantasy of being a knight errant in search of adventure and glory. Miranda, much like Don Quixote's companion Sancho Panza, knows her father may be delusional, but can’t help getting caught up in believing in the existence of a more meaningful and noble life. Does a buried treasure really exist? And in the end, does it really matter or is the quest itself the most important thing? You’ll have to search out King of California to find out.