This review was originally published on March 22, 2011…
“Surrogate Valentine” is exactly the sort of movie you hope to avoid at film festivals. It’s a vanity project wrapped in a distracting, meaningless black and white package. It’s clear director Dave Boyle intended to jump on the Mumblecore bandwagon but it lacks the realism and effortless wit usually found in the genre. The dialog dips into rom-com cringe-worthiness and the sentimentality feels forced. Why do film festivals insist on programming these self-important wankfests? When will this madness end? Won’t someone please think of the children?
The story follows a musician named Goh Nakamura (played by Goh Nakamura), who is basically a portly Asian Lloyd Dobbler without the eloquence and good taste in music. The character is based tightly on an Asian singer/songwriter named Goh Nakamura. There’s also a Goh Nakamura in the writing credits. I’m guessing they’re related. Anyway, this struggling John Mayer-type agrees to let a quasi-famous Hollywood actor, Danny, shadow him for the purposes of role research. Danny accompanies Goh as he passively peddles his acoustic wares up and down the West Coast. Meanwhile, Goh reconnects with an old flame and passively attempts to win her back.
In the context of the film, as well as the film-within-a-film, Goh Nakamura is meant to be a sensitive genius and an object of desire. In fact, his awful music and lame jokes win women over so frequently that he can afford to ignore their advances. But the truth is that Goh Nakamura is a contender for the least appealing hipster of all time. He sports the hoodie and tie look without a hint of irony. He moves through the world quietly, attempting to appear deep, but coming off as boring at best.
The movie-within-a-movie is supposed to be bad. Danny plays it like a mincing emo Buddy Holly. Goh’s lame ballads provide the soundtrack for both films, implying that his songs are too beautiful for a Hollywood movie. It’s actually the other way around. A sample lyric: “Your suitcase is by the door/Your carry-on will carry on/Like a baby”. There’s a titular song too. Really.
It gets worse. Goh is the less annoying half of this buddy flick. Danny follows Goh around with a smug, actory demeanor, wildly gesticulating as he imparts platitudes onto his romantically challenged tutor. Like many actors, he has a mediocre Christopher Walken impression and he utilizes it as often as possible, claiming it helps him learn his lines.
The film is shot on HD, but the arbitrary black and white filter gives the picture a flat, dull look. Seattle and San Francisco are lush, beautiful places, but Boyle manages to make them look utterly unremarkable. Even iconic locations like Gas Works Park, Golden Gate Park and The Space Needle stood out only because of they’re hackneyed shorthand properties.
If there’s any redeeming quality to “Surrogate Valentine,” it’s that I see what they tried to do there. This is the sort of movie that gives Mumblecore a bad reputation. Dave Boyle doesn’t seem to realize that you don’t actually have to make your characters mumble.