Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

King of California


Comedies about crazy people are a hard sell with me. They have to be handled in a certain way. One example I can think of is the classic King of Hearts, where the inmates of a French asylum are temporarily freed during World War I, and take over a small town. They are all delightfully loony, in the way almost no real people are. And it’s clearly metaphorical and satirical. No one is expected to believe it.

I had the same trouble with this one that I did with Silver Linings Playbook. I really, really disliked the main character. Mental illness is not funny. It’s not cute, it’s not endearing. Mental illness, in this case bipolar disorder, affects not just the person who has it, but everyone around him, and not for the better. People with this condition become incredibly self-centered, like Bradley Cooper in Playbook. Everything has to revolve around them. They never ask permission for anything, just taking whatever they need as their due because they have this vision. This obsession. Plus, they’re crazy, so everyone is supposed to understand.

Here, Michael Douglas joins a long line of supposedly loveable loonies who have a dream. In his case it is buried treasure from a Spanish explorer of the seventeenth century. He comes exploding into the life of his daughter, Evan Rachel Wood, and proceeds to take over. The girl has been surviving by playing social services agencies against each other, so that none of them realize that a sixteen-year-old is living alone in an old house while Mom is off somewhere and Dad is in the laughing academy. She works at McDonald’s and has scrimped and saved to buy a beater car to get to work and back.

So, fuck all that, Dad says. From now on we will chase the buried gold. He drags her all over the place with metal detectors and surveying equipment and finally a backhoe. Where is he getting the money for all this stuff? From her, apparently. Then when he can’t come up with the payment for the backhoe, he sells her little car. And that was the last fucking straw for me. I hated, hated, hated him. Why wasn’t he on his meds? I turned it off. I was terrified that, in the end, they would find the gold. Which is as dishonest an ending as I can imagine.