SXSW 2011 Review: SURROGATE VALENTINE
Goh Nakamura takes on his first leading role as a talented, but not quite successful, musician tasked with teaching a seemingly more successful, but not necessarily talented, actor how to play the guitar for an upcoming movie role. As Danny (Chadd Stoops) joins Goh on tour, bouncing back and forth between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, Goh tries to teach Danny how to emulate a musician while Danny tries to teach Goh how to break out of his shell and go after what he truly wants.
The juxtaposition between Goh and Danny is a classic odd couple – one outlandish while the other plays the reserved straight man. Almost all of Danny’s dialogue is immediately quotable, but try as he might to have meaningful conversations or make real connections, it all seems to come out as one-liners. Danny has been acting his whole life and you start to realize that living through scripts may have kept him from finding his own voice.
Conversely, Goh expresses himself through his music, baring his true thoughts and feelings through his beautifully written songs. However, in his actual life, Goh is at times painfully shy and unable to get past himself to say what he thinks or wants. Goh plays by the rules and if he is told something isn’t possible, he will accept the answer politely. Danny on the other hand is a charmer who rarely hears the word no and as such never hesitates to push his boundaries ever so slightly to get what he wants.
Danny thinks the life of a “rock star” on tour is all girls and parties, but Goh shows him that the life of a struggling musician is anything but, staying on friends' couches rather than hotel suites and trying to sell CDs to pay for his gas money as he travels up and down the west coast. Danny could be a jerk, but there is a sweet nature to him, an underlying desire to please, that keeps him from being someone you would just write off. He never judges Goh for his behavior or how he conducts his tour, he just tries to jump in and help, sometimes to Goh’s chagrin, but always with the best of intentions.
As the two get to know one another better, it becomes clear that the character Danny will be playing in the film is not just a musician like Goh, but parts of Goh himself. As they run lines we realize that Danny may not have the acting chops his “success” suggests and the character he is set to play has some odd quirks that Goh himself shares. When the girl referred to in the script comes back into Goh’s life, Danny makes it his mission to help Goh get closer to her.
A friend from high school (and an unrequited crush) Rachel (Lynn Chen) and Goh have an easy comfort with one another. Goh is not without interested women in his life, but he seems more comfortable having them as friends rather than potential relationships. Rachel asks him why this is and Goh explains that he will write a song about a girl and end up liking the song more than the girl. Although harsh, it is the plight of any artist who naturally put their work above any relationship. Goh is already slightly socially awkward, but mix in his artist temperament and it’s a tall mountain to climb.
Despite Danny’s attempts at helping Goh get closer to Rachel, he botches every opportunity he is given. Goh and Rachel dance around each other throughout the film, neither stepping up to make a move or have a concrete conversation with the other. Danny had given Rachel his script to look over and Goh tries to mention that the script may ring a bit true to life and also lend to letting her know that Goh’s feelings are more than friendship.
SURROGATE VALENTINE inspires well-earned laughter, but the ending leaves things a bit cold. After the journey these characters go on together, things are left slightly too open ended to pack any real punch of change or growth in either man. Punctuated with true heart and fantastic music from real life musician and songwriter Goh, the ride is still worthwhile.