If you're going to make a movie about the real life problems of a budding musician, it may not be a bad idea to cast an actual musician in the part. Real life singer/songwriter Goh Nakamura co-wrote, starred in and wrote music for Dave Boyle's third feature, Surrogate Valentine, a simply shot comedy chronicling the ups and downs of another performer, aptly named Goh.
Goh walks the disconcerting middle line between a breakout and just another dude with a guitar. He's constantly on tour, but struggles to raise the money and talent necessary to cut his studio album. The woman he dreams of settling down with is tied up in another relationship, in another town, in another life. With all his baggage behind him, Goh finds himself picking up an odd job: teaching a famous TV star how to play guitar... for a movie based on Goh's life. The dim-witted, heartthrob Danny Turner (Chadd Stoops) and Goh hit the road, but the trip ends up growing into a self-reflective journey, shaking up Goh's life whether he wants it to or not.
In a world where every person is a filmmaker, anybody (and everybody) can pick up a camera and shoot their own walk-and-talk indie, Surrogate Valentine feels composed, intelligent and snappily written. The crisp black and white photography keeps things simple, but never crude. The film's modesty keeps us engaged with its characters and allows us to soak up the world by which they're surrounded. Surrogate Valentine plays as something of a love letter to San Francisco, following Goh as he travels to Seattle and Los Angeles, but always returns to the rolling hills of the his northern California home.
Nakamura anchors Surrogate Valentine, finding a balance between comedy and drama with a hushed debut performance that is genuine and active. Yes, it's refreshing to see an Asian-American in a lead performance, but it's even more invigorating to simply see a great performance. Nakamura and the rest of the cast fire off one-liners like it's nobody's business and when jokes hit they hit hard (the film will go down with the single greatest To Kill a Mockingbird reference of all time). Thankfully, they never feel out of place. This isn't quirk for quirk's sake. When the laughter dies down, Goh and the film are appropriately contemplative and the fantastic musical stylings of Nakamura compliment those moments perfectly.
Where indies often rely on crazed plotlines or clever hooks, Surrogate Valentine commits itself to an everyman with problems -- and hoping you care about them. Thanks to the charming combination of Nakamura and Boyle's talents, there's a very good chance you will.
Get a taste for Goh Nakamura's music by downloading his new album for free at gohnakamura.com.