Being There: A Review of “The King of New Orleans”

A New Orleans Film Festival 2015 / Made in Louisiana Feature

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The New Orleans of The King of New Orleans is a magical mistress. It informs the behavior of its people as much as its people talk up the virtues of their city. But it’s also an overbearing monster, constantly interrupting conversations to make its presence known.

The New Orleans of The King of New Orleans is a total diva.

Its denizens and deviants all gravitate around the life of one lonely yet jolly cab driver. Every ride they take is like Taxicab Confessions Lite; a soul bearing chat without the sleaze. I have a good friend who works a cab. She’s extremely easy to talk and open up to. Does the job bring in people of this sort, or do drivers naturally become open listeners over time?

Maybe it’s the city. Maybe it connects our open mouths to other open ears. A 24/7 party environment will loosen a lot of lips. It takes courage to make it through a confession of sorts. And New Orleans has plenty to go around.

Courage, I mean.

We see the city through the perspective of professional driver Larry, as played by the sage like David Jensen. Larry’s routine of burgers, pleasant talks with passengers and sharing anecdotes with colleagues might come off as simplistic and mundane to some. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. The man is in his 60’s, and has lived to see plenty — a life of solemn tranquility is all he wants, and the opportunity to connect with others. To share and spread wisdom. He’s “no saint”, but there is something spiritual about the way he lives and loves.

David Jensen plays Larry like a wandering monk, who breathes to serve the greater good of his community. We can see and feel his trials and tribulations through his facial expressions, which are usually captured by dashboard cam. In these moments, while someone sits behind him, he is really acting to an audience of himself, laying bare a man who experiences frustration, joy and disgust. Just like the rest of us.

Taking place just prior to and just after Hurricane Katrina, The King of New Orleans puts Larry in a before and after conflict. Living out of a FEMA trailer, he takes a tourist couple to the Lower Ninth Ward to “see the devastation”. They take pictures and gasp in out of towner ignorance at what once was other people’s lives. Larry is clearly upset, but he takes deep breaths, has the emotions cascade over him, and drives on.

David Jensen is, like New Orleans, courageous.

However, Jensen may have been compensating for other elements. The filmmakers approach seems to be in capturing the landmarks of the city, and not in the atmosphere around the landmarks. We get a sense of the city through the actors, but not so much through the visuals. They show NOLA, but through the lens of a newcomer. It’s wide eyed, but very unfocused.

Perhaps, through David Jensen and others, we learn and understand all we need to about the city. If this were a play, sure. As a movie, a whole movie, it merely records when it could’ve captured. But, what it records, is gold. Black and gold.

For its unclear gaze, The King of New Orleans suffers only to be healed by the ability of David Jensen. The movie has nothing to say, but Jensen does. And that’s worth a listen.

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Written by

Independent film critic. Progressive po’ boy, moviegoing romantic. SEFCA member, 🍅 - approved. Newsletter at ofthosewho.substack.com

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