By Stephen Simon



It is a rare moment indeed when a Hollywood megastar like Michael Douglas appears for a fraction of his normal salary in a small, low-budget film with a first-time writer/director. Often, that kind of commitment is a flashing beacon for those of us seeking new and different films. Such is the case with King of California, a quirky, fascinating, and original movie.

Douglas plays Charlie, whom we meet as he is released from a well-earned-term stay in a mental institution. We don’t know whether Charlie is considered “cured” or if the facility has just run out of beds and kicks him out. In fact, that particular question lingers over the whole film: just what is the state of Charlie’s sanity?

Waiting for Charlie at home is his teenage daughter Miranda, played with graceful dignity by the gifted young actress, Evan Rachel Wood. Any hopes Miranda has for a return to normalcy, however, are immediately dashed as Charlie enlists her in a hunt for Spanish treasure.

Charlie is convinced that he knows how to find the lost fortune and, slowly but surely, he lures Miranda to join him in his own Don Quixote-like quest that culminates in a dig beneath (where else?) the local Costco.

If eccentric is grade school, King of California is a graduate program. Almost nothing in the film conforms to any standard of normalcy and almost everything that happens does so in an entirely different zip code from our expectations.

The father/daughter relationship between Charlie and Miranda is loving, confrontational, and as with all such connections, extremely complex. Miranda’s mother left Charlie before the chilling incident that put Charlie in the institution. Miranda has gallantly tried, with a certain degree of pride and success, to handle adult life on her own.

Father and daughter obviously have a deep love for each other but Charlie’s drummer is in such a completely different band from everyone around him that Miranda always seems to be about two or three songs behind him. Watching Wood and Douglas try to bridge that gap is one of the most satisfying and compelling aspects of the film.

As to Charlie himself, Douglas gives us a rich, complicated, tormented, wacky, and heartfelt look into the soul of a man who lives on an emotional tight wire. It has been said that only fools accomplish the impossible, because they are the only ones who try.

One of the ad lines for the film says that we have “to believe in treasure to find it.” If belief truly creates that kind of reality, as I feel it does, then Charlie delineates that knowing for all of us. He takes us right to that line between genius and insanity. Between inspiration and delusion. Between hope and despair. So, is Charlie really insane or is he infused with a unique vision? Ask the Chinese swimmers. They know.

King of California is a featured selection in Volume 10 of the Spiritual Cinema Circle DVD club along with three inspiring short films. New subscribers to the Spiritual Cinema Circle can receive a free trial membership (for a nominal shipping fee) by visiting or by calling (800) 556-0129.

Stephen Simon co-founded He also produced such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, and directed and produced Indigo and Conversations with God.


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