Coming of age tales are overdone in independent cinema. It takes great skill to transcend the cliched genre. Plenty of first-time directors make their debut with these coming of age films. In certain ways, these films act as a calling card to see who will make it on to their next film. With “Solace,” the latest entry in this genre, writer/director Tchaiko Omawale makes a case to stick around. The film itself rarely transcends the tropes it plays into. However, there’s a strong vision that makes us want to see more.
Seventeen-year-old Sole (Hope Olaide Wilson) finds herself newly orphaned before her big service trip to Sierra Leone. She’s shipped off from New York to her estranged Grandma Irene (Lynn Whitfield) in Los Angeles. A martini guzzling Christian, Irene rubs Sole the wrong way instantly. In order to escape LA, Sole sets her sights on a protest grant that will send her back to New York. However, it’s a group project. Sole connects with a pair of party hard misfits next door – Jasmine (Chelsea Travers) and Guedado (Luke Rampersad) – to join the project. In the process, the two open Sole up, which both invigorates and damages her.
The biggest strength of the movie is Hope Olaide Wilson at the center. Sole’s protagonist stands out as she’s a motivated activist trying to do good in the world. However, her desire to make an imprint begins to drive her mad. Compounding her mental distress are body issues that only seem to get worse around her new friends. Sole frequently binge eats for comfort and experiments with appetite suppressants to dangerous results. Wilson makes Sole a strong, motivated force that can turn so quickly on her insecurities.
It’s a fantastically dynamic and nimble performance aided primarily by Omawale’s writing of the character and partially by her direction. The script has a great grasp on the character’s motivations. The direction heightens Sole’s distress. The film turns on a dime into a distressing, horrifying blur when she feels overwhelmed. This brings us into Sole’s mind space in an interesting way, particularly helping us understand her journey with food. However, the entire film feels cut and edited in a jarring fashion. Add in plenty of garnish sound choices and the full movie brings on distress. There’s little modulation and it makes it harder to follow along or be engaged with the film as a whole.
It’s hard to engage with the entire film because, apart from Sole, not much else works. Her new friends, Jasmine and Guedado, are thinly sketched out. Jasmine inherited her house from her family and trashes it on a routine basis. As a character, she possesses no narrative compass. She acts as a self-destructive wild card, with self-harm tendencies tacked on as an afterthought. Guedado acts as a bland love interest. He just takes up space until the movie forces a love story between him and Sole. Together, the both of them are supposed to open up Sole’s world. Instead, we never understand what this world is. In fact, it feels rather myopic and small.
Writer/director Tchaiko Omawale possesses an interesting visual eye. Based on “Solace,” one hopes Omawale takes her talent and directs it to a more ambitious project. However, much like Sole’s central project, we don’t quite know what “Solace” is. We don’t know what sets this movie apart from another coming of age films. This rarely measures up to the talent in front of and behind the camera.