Reel Asian Film Festival: Surrogate Valentine

Those who take pleasure in simple things such as good music and charming humour will enjoy Dave Boyle’s Surrogate Valentine.

The film follows  musician Goh Nakamura (playing himself)as he struggles to make a living playing live gigs and teaching guitar.

But when a filmmaker friend asks him to give guitar lessons to TV star Danny Turner (Chadd Stoops) for an upcoming movie role, Goh reluctantly takes the job.

Because Danny will be playing a “burned out, sad sack, musician,” the two end up going on tour together.  To the annoyance of Goh, Danny models his research on him.   And as the two get to know one another better, it becomes clear the character Danny is supposed to play rings a bit too true to Goh’s life.

But things get more complicated when Goh’s unrequited crush Rachel (played by Lynn Chen) shows up at one of his shows.  As Goh tours from his home in San Francisco to gigs in Seattle and Los Angeles, Rachel is always on his mind.

Shot in black and white, the characters and their charm shine through.  While the introverted Goh wants nothing more than to sing and write songs, Danny on the other hand, is annoying but funny, often bragging about his former roles.

What’s also impressive is Goh’s performance as a musician.  Penning the song that inspired the film’s title,  his emotional and soulful tunes are what stands out.

Although the performances of each actor is justified, things are left too open-ended by the film’s end.  There’s no sense of growth for the lead, and therefore it leaves the audience wanting more.

But nonetheless, Surrogate Valentine  is certainly quite a pleasure to watch.  For once, it is nice to see an Asian lead playing a role that isn’t stereotyped.

(This review was published in the December 2011 issue of the Ryerson Free Press)

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