Review of King of California

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Hollywood heavyweight Michael Douglas stars alongside Evan Rachel Wood in this 2007 comedy/drama. Recently released from a mental institution, Charlie (Douglas) tries to convince his teenage daughter (Wood) that gold is buried somewhere near their lower-middle-class neighborhood. In his obsessive search for this supposed treasure he is able to rekindle a bond with his child.
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Movie Review: "King of California"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: September 12, 2007
Directed by: Mike Cahill
Genre: Comedy / Drama

The burden of being a teenager is heavy enough to bear. There's a myriad of social, cultural and hormonal issues that all go along with growing up. The burden gets even heavier when you throw in a mentally unstable father who has an obsession with buried Spanish gold. This is the life of Miranda, played by Evan Rachel Wood. It is also the life her father Charlie, a former resident of the state mental institution. The primary story behind the movie "King of California" is not one of self-pity, despite all of Miranda's troubles. It is a journey of self-discovery; a highly unusual one.

Charlie, played by Michael Douglas, is newly released from a mental institution. He comes home to find his house in danger of demolition because of a new highway coming through. His little girl is now a distant teen who wants nothing more than to go to work in order to pay the bills and then to come home. Miranda has no desire to bond with Charlie. She is simply biding her time until she can leave. In the midst of all the chaos, Charlie thinks he holds the key to finding a long lost Spanish treasure, buried somewhere in Southern California. Law enforcement representatives and Miranda seem to want to halt the treasure-seeking process, but Charlie remains passionate and undaunted in his search.

To continue his search, Charlie needs Miranda's help. That's the problem. There are too many issues between them, and not all of the problems have to do with Charlie's illness. Miranda's mom cut out of their lives long ago, and Miranda had to get a fast food job to feed and clothe herself while Charlie was locked up. She resents having to work so hard to keep them both afloat. School was dropped long ago in an effort to make ends meet. Charlie's obsessive search, his protests against the highway builders and his many other eccentricities leave Miranda wishing for a way out. The last thing she wants to do is help him dig up the town looking for a phantom treasure.

However, helping Charlie is exactly what Miranda ends up doing. Grudgingly at first, she goes along to prevent any arrests and to make sure Charlie is safe. Soon, she too is sucked into the Spanish treasure hunt. In a hilarious twist, the "X" marks a spot in the center of a Costco. However, that doesn't matter. As their trip progresses, Miranda learns a lot about her father's insanity and the man he truly is underneath the mental instability. The teen sees a more human side of a man she once resented. She also finds the loving father that she thought had left a very long time ago.

The dynamic between the Miranda and Charlie characters illustrate just how complex relationships become when mental illness turns the parent from a caregiver into the one requiring care. However, it doesn't stop there. By watching the father and daughter grow closer, the audience can understand that there is more to a person than the mental illness they carry as a permanent burden. In fact, the person underneath can be a lovable, charming and interesting individual, but you will never know this until you look past the illness and spend a little time with the so-called crazy person.

"King of California" also illustrates how bitterness can cloud memory and ruin a relationship. In hunting treasure with her father, Miranda learns a great deal about herself and the life she thought she was living. By watching Charlie, she also learns to free herself to dream and live a more passionate life, one that may be different from the one she intended to have.

Audiences looking for a feel-good film may have a bit of a hard time finding it at first. Wood and Douglas play two characters that are dead set in their ways until much later in the film. However, that is no reason to avoid "King of California." The message that the movie holds is a universal one that anyone can identify with. It explores some very complex issues and relationships that are never completely resolved. The point of the film is to learn to accept the flaws in other human beings. Instead of expecting change, understanding another person as they are can take you a very long way toward finding happiness with even the most eclectic soul, and can also enable you to find peace within yourself.

Rating 3 out of 5