King of California

Mike Cahill

In what Michael Douglas called “one of the best scripts I’ve ever read,” according to the DVD, the Oscar winning actor dreams the impossible dream portraying bipolar Charlie who, just released from a mental institution, embarks on a quest to find buried gold left from the expedition of seventeenth century Spanish explorer Father Juan Florismarte Garces. The fact that it’s buried six feet below cement in the local Costco doesn’t deter him in the least as he pours over books and orders expensive equipment to aid him in his quest, much to the disappointment of his intelligent, hardworking sixteen year old daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) who, forced to fend for herself when he went away, has become the responsible party pulling double shifts at McDonald’s to pay the bills and telling enough lies to social services and others so that she wouldn’t have been brought into the depressing foster system. Worried that her father’s erratic behavior is a sign that he’s getting worse, Miranda tries to control Charlie but then decides to tag along more to keep him company than anything else out of fierce and blind love for her father that defies all logic even when he rants. Soon, almost against her will, Miranda begins to believe Charlie’s tales and goes undercover working at the local Costco while the two, along with a former associate of his, plan a way to get past the security alarm and hunt for treasure. Fascinating, funny and filled with intelligence and heart, this quixotic independent film marks the film debut of novelist turned talented writer/director Mike Cahill.

King of California, which was a finalist in the 2004 American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest offers a brilliant showcase for Douglas who’s playing a character that seems to be the polar opposite of his early Prince of Darkness roles in Wall Street and Fatal Attraction and after his work in Wonder Boys and Traffic several years ago, indicates to audiences that he has much more to offer in his legendary career. Wood further demonstrates her impeccable taste in working on character driven pieces and this film, coupled with her roles in Running With Scissors, Down in the Valley, The Upside of Anger and others makes her one of the most consistently daring and talented young stars to watch and the perfect antidote to the plastic looking one-dimensional characters and actresses that populate most Hollywood films for her age group.

Filmed in just thirty-one days, King of California which played to critical praise at last year’s Sundance Film Festival was recently released on DVD, thanks in part to the name stars and also securing a fan in producer Alexander Payne (director of Sideways) who notes on the DVD that he liked Cahill’s script so much that he was jealous that he wasn’t directing it himself. A true treasure of a film and one that’s hopefully easier for audiences to find than gold underneath a Costco, Cahill’s sundrenched ode to bland homogeny of strip-mall contemporary life points out the wonderful ability for those of us who, like Charlie and Miranda, need to take the time to believe in the impossible dream.