Lachlan MacAldonich (Robert Carlyle), a former guitarist in a UK band, now lives in California. He works on a farm during the day and has his own podcast series that he records every night about the great musicians who have died too soon. After getting slapped with DUI charges, he finds himself in a bit of a quagmire because of a past conviction of marijuana possession that might lead to him become deported back to the UK. His efforts to come up with the money required to pay his lawyer's fees remain futile for some of the time, and as he learns, his only chance to avoid deportation is if he can prove that if the deportation would cause extreme hardship for any relative or wife/ex-wife who's an American citizen. As it turns out, his ex-wife, Catherine (Kathleen Wilhoite), lets him stop by her home even though he hasn't seen her for years. He seems quite selfish when he mentions to her his conflict before he even asks her how their 13-year-old daughter, Arianwen (Savannah Lathem), is doing. Meanwhile, Lachlan flirts with a customer, Beau (Alexia Rasmussen), who frequents a farmers market that he works at, and he has an opportunity to rekindle his music career when her friend, who happens to be a huge fan of his former band, offers to get him a gig or two.
Just when you think Califorinia Solo will become a tender romance between Lachlan and Beau or a drama where Lachlan uses his chance to play music as a means of making money, it goes in neither direction. Instead, writer/director Marshall Lewy opts for a more low-key, slow-burn character study that doesn't offer easy, simple solutions nor does it take a stab at U.S. immigration laws. The character study manages to be mildly engrossing for the most part not because of the screenplay, but because of Robert Carlyle's nuanced, heartfelt performance. Carlyle masterfully sinks his teeth into his role and makes you pity him even though he's a selfish drunk who's not particularly bright or likable. There's a lot brewing beneath Lachlan's surface, but it's only Carlyle, not Lewy, who brings those complexities out. His brief scenes with Arianwen show a tender side to him that makes his character even more complex.
Unfortunately, despite those few strengths, California Solo sinks into mediocrity with turns of events that fail to pack an emotional punch or to offer any new or surprising insights into the life of Lachlan, so you'll eventually grow tired of Lachlan after the first hour. Moreover, the editing at times feels abrupt which makes for a clunky ride. Lewy should have expanded upon the scenes between Lachlan and his lawyers or Lachlan and his ex-wife/daughter because they're important, yet too brief and rushed here.
Deb (Adelaide Clemens) and Dom (Tom Lipinski), an engaged young couple from New York City, undergo a marriage preparation program, Pre-Cana, that's required before they can get married at a Catholic Church. Dom's mother, Kathryn (Valerie Harper), essentially shoves religion down her son's throat even though he doesn't quite have the same level of fervor that she does. Dom's sister, Melissa (Tammy Blanchard), miraculously lost 100 pounds and married Roddy (Bobby Moynihan), but their marriage begins to get shaky. Romance isn't perfect for Dom's best friend, Kevin (Will Rogers), either because he's still single and pines for his ex-girlfriend from college, Betsy (Kristen Connolly). Giancarlo Esposito shows up as Father Heely, the priest who runs the Pre-Cana program as Deb and Dom question their love and faith as well as other other thoughts and feelings with each other.
Intelligent and sophisticated romantic dramedies are far and few between nowadays because, quite often, the filmmakers cater to the lowest common denominator while insulting the audience's intelligence. Fortunately, director Peter Askin and screenwriter Mike O'Malley treat the audience with respect, for the most part, and the result is a charming, relatable and endearing film. It could have used a little bit more in terms of comic relief and wit, though, but there are a few ephemeral moments offer those. Certainty may not break new ground or take any huge risks in terms of its story, but at least Deb and Dom aren't stock characters who can be pigeonholed; they're complex human beings with feelings even though one of them might be more in touch with their innate feelings than the other. After all, they're at the age, 28, when many struggle with the societal or religious pressures of getting married and starting a family. Relationships are complicated, though, and take a lot of work so it's no surprise that Certainty offers glimpses of other complicated relationships beyond just those of Deb and Dom's. Any of those relationships, i.e. Melissa and Roddy's, could have easily been delved into more thoroughly in another film that centers around them.
It's also worth mentioning that Adelaide Clemens, star of Silent Hill: Revelation and the upcoming remake of The Great Gatsby, radiates panache, sexiness, grace and charisma as Deb. She deftly handles the emotionally heavy scenes with utter conviction. If only the American film industry were to offer more complex roles, such as this one, that doesn't objectify women, Clemens would be able to display her acting skills more often.
Police inspector Surjan Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) investigates a mysterious accident that sent a car veering off a road and crashing into the ocean, killing its driver. Other similar accidents occurred at the same spot on the road, so Surjan believes that the accidents might be connected somehow. He questions the victim's relatives and Surjan soon learns that Shashi, a pimp, might have blackmailed the victim. He eventually meets a prostitute, Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), who may or may not be able to help him solve the case. As it turns out, Surjan has his own personal issues to deal with because his son had drowned years ago in a boating accident, and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukherji), consults a neighbor with psychic powers who claims that she could communicate with the spirit of his son.
A truly great mystery/thriller should be clever, suspenseful, great performance, comic relief and a screenplay that's grounded in at least a modicum of realism. Unfortunately, Talaash, Hindi for "searching," has very little of those important qualities to offer. The plot begins intriguingly but quickly slides into excessive foreshadow, tedium and lack of subtlety that makes for a banal and underwhelming experience. The second act takes seemingly forever to unfold with red herrings that could be seen a mile away. Screenwriters Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti spoon-feed the audience information and hit them over the head with it so that everything is spelled out and virtually nothing is left for their interpretation or imagination. Aamir Khan gives a decent performance, but his character is forgettable and uninteresting--his mustache looks more interesting than anything else and becomes a character of its own.
What else does Talaash have to offer? On a purely aesthetic level, director Reema Kagti includes stylish cinematography and nifty special effects that provide some eye candy. However, there are diminishing returns to those stylish visuals because by the 1-hour mark, they're no longer enough to keep you entertained for the next hour and 15 minutes. Moreover, the flashback sequences are used awkwardly and excessively while the dramatic scenes fall flat in terms of generating any pathos or poignancy.
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