Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Surrogate Valentine @SIFF 2011

Goh is San Francisco musician Goh Nakamura, and he is living the life you are, your comrades, or your indie singer-songwriter heroes are. Creating songs and getting cut-rate studio time to record them; playing small venue and living room gigs between Seattle and Los Angeles; still awkwardly and desperately in love with one childhood crush back home, and having a romantic friendship with a fan somewhere else. Because of his DIY status, and being in debt to his mother and pals, he takes on a weird job: helping Danny, a hack young soap opera, star learn guitar to star in an independent movie written by Goh’s old friend Amy.

Director Dave Boyle has done similar work about young people of different races trying to find their place in the world with previous films¬†Big Dreams Little Tokyo and White On Rice. This explains why Surrogate Valentine is so well-written, excellently cast, and wonderfully shot in Seattle, San Francisco, LA, and points in-between. But what makes this a can’t-miss selection for Seattle music fans are the broad but informed characterizations of people in the music business. One meeting with a Seattle rack jobber (distro guy who places product in stores) who’s a veteran of the pre-grunge rock scene here rings true, as he diminishes Goh’s own work while showing off his fancy gear and gun collection.

Chadd Stoops as Danny is as grating as Vince Vaughn in Made, constantly mugging and crossing boundaries and being exactly the kind of mainstream wanna-be show business dolt that annoy the hell out of indie kids (you can see Goh trying to crawl out of his own skin near him on several occasions). His eventual problems with the industry and his own weird emotional compulsions made me more sympathetic to Danny though; especially after he performs an excellent G. Love-style Christopher Walken-impression rap of one of Goh’s own lyrics as the two relax in a park during one of their many road trips.

As Goh finds out how much of his own transparent passions have bled into the script he’s preparing Danny for, and the women around them give both inspiration and sympathy for their not-quite-there but working-hard-at-it personal missions, the story moves beyond archetype (marginal artist versus those who have “arrived”) and into a warm, relatable honesty. The women in each city may not be on the focus of the story being told, but they’re all treated with respect and mystery by Boyle, and little details like Giant Robot t-shirts worn by Goh, and having graphic novelist Derek Kirk Kim do drawings in the story shows he knows much about Asian Americans in alternative culture. I have the feeling almost anyone who reads Three Imaginary Girls will enjoy recognizing details like these, and learning just how hard it is for some of our favorites to make music for a living.

{Surrogate Valentine screens at SIFF on May 29, 9:30pm at The Harvard Exit and again on May 30, 3:30pm at the Admiral Theatre}