King of California (2007): Mike Cahill’s Father-Daughter Dramedy, Starring Michael Douglas and Evan Rachek Wood

Sundance Film Fest 2007 (World Premiere)–Writer-director Mike Cahill makes a decent feature debut with King of California, a father-daughter dramedy that’s well-acted by Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood.

The film showcased in the premiere section of the 2007 Sundance Film Fest and will play at the upcoming Toronto Film Fest, before bowing commercially September 14.

Despite illustrious cast, it arrived at Park City with pedigree in front and behind the cameras, but no distribution deal. Produced by Alexander Payne (a Sundance grad himself) and his longtime partner Michael London, the film credits half a dozen other execs (Boaz Davidson, John Thompson, George Furla, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short and Elisa Salinas).

The movie is far more interesting as an acting vehicle for Michael Douglas, who like his father, the legendary Kirk Douglas, is increasingly getting more eccentric though without the accompanying anger of his father’s screen image. “King of California” is a good companion piece to a previous high for Douglas, Curtis Hanson’s superb “Wonder Boys,” in which he a arguably gave the most accomplished performance of his already rich career, honored by the L.A. Film Critics Association, but disregarded at Oscar time, probably due to poor marketing and box-office flop.

The simple story is rather old-fashioned. At the age of sixteen, Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood, of “Thirteen” fame, slightly older than the age that her part calls for) has already experienced her impressive share of disappointments. Abandoned by her mother, she drops out of school and is supporting herself as an employee at McDonald’s, while her father Charlie (Michael Douglas) resides in a mental institution.

When Charlie is released (after a two-year-stint) and sent back to their home, Miranda finds her relatively peaceful existence completely disrupted. The script boasts the narrative structure of classic Hollywood movie, with its three consecutive states of balance (here illusory and delusional), imbalance, and then restoration of balance (or semblance of) on a different plateau.

Moreover, while gone, Charlie has become obsessed with the notion that the long-lost treasure of Spanish explorer Father Juan Florismarte Torres is buried somewhere near their Southern California suburb. What’s a desperate girl to do Initially skeptical, Miranda soon finds herself joining Charlie in an effort to give him one last shot at accomplishing his dreams in this darkly funny, surprisingly hopeful take on one post-modern family (or rather, what has become of the traditional nuclear family)–and the American Dream, too.

The journey the father-daughter duo embarks on is nonsensical and absurd, sort of an excuse to let them explore in greater depth their evolving relationship, and as writer, Cahill is not as witty or sharp observe as his mentor Alexander Payne.

As an aging, pot-smoking dreamer, who just cant let go of something even it’s utterly foolish, Douglas sounds and looks right for the part, sporting a grizzly beard and wearing a crazy stare for most of the yarn. As an actor, the role affords Douglas an opportunity to “stretch,” here going one or two notches beyond what he did in “Wonder Boys,” which is a much better picture, of course. Just watch the hilarious scene, in which he interacts with–and hits on–a woman cop who’s about to lock him up.

Ultimately, though he has a smaller part, the film belongs to Douglas, but Evan Rachel Wood continues to develop as one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and gifted actresses.

Throughout, this quintessentially Los Angeles screwball comedy displays distinctive flourishes (some visual, courtesy of cinematographer James Whitaker) that elevate “King of California” (a good if movieish film title) above its rather routine level of writing and characterizations; my bet is that this is what attracted a genuine satirist like Payne to the material.

End Note

Film associations are a bizarre phenomenon and while watching the intermittently entertaining but ultimately minor “King of California,” I kept thinking of a similar situation that was splayed for “real” (but also preposterous) melodrama, Katharine Hepburn in her screen debut, in George Cukor’s 1932 “A Bill of Divorcement,” playing the tormented and quivering daughter of the legendary John Barrymore, who comes home from an asylum, just when her mother (Billie Burke) is about to marry another man. Times have changed, and at least Evan Rachel Wood take her father for what and who he is, without fearing for a second that Douglas’s mental problems are hereditary!


Charlie (Michael Douglas)
Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood)
Pepper (Willis Burks II)


Running time: 91 Minutes.

A Millennium Films presentation in association with Emmett/Furla Films of an Alexander Payne/Michael London production.
Produced by Payne, London, Avi Lerner, Randall Emmett.
Executive producers, John Thompson, Trevor Short, Danny Dimbort, Boaz Davidson, George Furla, Elisa Salinas.
Co-producer, George Parra.
Directed, written by Mike Cahill.
Cinematography: James Whitaker
Editor: Glenn Garland.
Music: David Robbins.
Production designer: Dan Bishop.
Art director: David Morong.
Set designer: Bill Matthews
Set decorator: Dianna Freas.
Costume Design: Ellen Mirojnick, Michael Dennison.
Makeup: Janeen Schreyer.