There seems to be an emerging niche genre in Hollywood – quirky, off-beat dramas featuring eccentric characters. The movies try to be funny and smart, tearful and hopeful at the same time (Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine come to the fore immediately). Many of the films tend to succeed, but they all have a similar feel to them, one that allows you to know the ending before it happens and gives you the sense that you've seen the picture before.
King of California, written and directed by Mike Cahill, stars Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood in just such a movie. To be sure, it's good and it's sweet and fun, but it has a terrible feeling of repetitiveness to it.
Douglas's role in the movie is that of Charlie, a relatively harmless but less-than-sane individual who has just been released from a mental hospital. Evan Rachel Wood acts opposite Douglas as Miranda, his nearly 17-year-old daughter who has had to grow up too quickly because of her father's childishness. In order to pay the bills, something Charlie never concerned himself with, Miranda dropped out of school and began working at the local McDonald's while Charlie was in the hospital. Charlie is devastated by this news as he sees Miranda as conforming to the mass consumption society he has always eschewed. For her part, Miranda doesn't necessarily believe in what she's doing, but she does recognize its necessity. Charlie has another idea about how to get money however — he believes there to be a long lost treasure near them, one left by Spanish explorers hundreds of years ago.
Though she is initially skeptical about Charlie's treasure theory, Miranda quickly finds herself heading down the rabbit hole with him. Some of her just wants to make her father happy, some of her just wants to spend time with him, and some of her actually believes that her father may have stumbled upon something huge. Miranda does decide to help him, even though Charlie's clues lead him to believe that the gold is buried beneath a Costco.
From the moment the movie begins the viewer knows precisely how it is all going to end up. At some point Miranda will be hurt by her father and yet will end up looking at the world differently for all time. Charlie, who will pursue the quest to his last, will grow to realize how he has affected his daughter's life, and not always for the better, but will not change his goals or ambitions.
Despite the film's clear ambition to tug at heartstrings it manages to draw the audience in. In no small part this is due to Evan Rachel Wood's wonderful performance and the ever-present sadness in Michael Douglas's eyes. As doubtful as their ever finding the treasure is, the audience still ends up pulling for the impossible to happen.
The DVD features the usual array of special features. Included are a “making of” documentary, outtakes, and a filmmakers' commentary track with the writer/director as well as the cinematographer, production designer, and first AD.
King of California is neither new nor different. The commentary it makes about our fast food, disposable, money-hungry society is equally old; however, it is quizzically offset by the fact that Charlie, a man who certainly doesn't believe that money makes the world go round, is on the hunt for a huge chunk of it. His goal is not the money for what it can buy him, but it is still money.
The film manages to find its way due to the sheer power of the performances given by its leads. Wood and Douglas prove that this particular genre of film can be successful, no matter how obvious the story, how clear the heartstrings are being plucked, with quality acting.