A recently divorced dad, Steve, drops his young daughter Cali off with his ex-wife, an uneasy encounter full of tension and pettiness that barely stays below the surface.
He spends the rest of his day ambling through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, where he stumbles across a 4/20 celebration in the park. Surrounded by pot and a crowd of carefree spirits, Steve runs into an old friend and joins in on the celebration around him. But the highs only cause him to question himself, miss his family and confront his own feelings of failure and sadness around his divorce.
Directors Irene Chin and Kurt Vincent, along with writer Adam Callahan, have crafted a warmly observant dramedy that serves as a slice-of-life vignette of countercultural life in San Francisco, a character portrait of a man grappling with feelings of sadness and inadequacy after divorce and a tender, radiant portrait of the bond between a child and her father.
Filmed during an actual 4/20 celebration in San Francisco, the visuals and camerawork by cinematographer Tyler McPherron have a loose, improvised, even jazz-like feel, letting the eye wander and meander in the same way that Steven does. The looseness eschews tight control in favor of letting viewers drift as the scenes play out, capturing the sights and sounds of the celebration in the park in the process. Compared to contemporary depictions of San Francisco as a slick locus of technology and wealth, the shambolic revelry serves as both a nostalgic reminder of San Francisco’s hippie roots and a time capsule of a beloved event in a rapidly transforming city. Like San Francisco itself, the film is shaped with an amiable, relaxed sense of wandering and ease, complete with an undertow of melancholy and punctuated by percussive jazz-like riffs and reggae music.
But the film never loses sight of Steve, who allows himself to be carried with the currents of celebration. Coming off an awkward, petty handing-off with his ex-wife, it’s easy to see just why Steven is discombobulated, and why he’d take advantage of his freedom to drift into the cavorting and carousing around him — something he’d likely not be able to do if he had his daughter with him. Yet he can’t quite let himself relax into the scene: his muted yet palpable ache for his daughter remains with him, even through the evils of thick smoke.
Actor Steve Talley, along with his daughter California Summer, captures beautifully the pleasures and quiet joys of parenthood in his performance, whether it’s in the pleasure of sharing pictures of his child with others or the gentle, engaged way he speaks and listens with Cali. It’s a portrayal that deftly captures how a parent’s thoughts are never far from their children, even when the kids are somewhere else. And the divide leads to a palpable ache for Steve, even surrounded by fun and camaraderie.
But then he’s reminded that, though that ache will never go away, he can embrace the present moment — the only thing that anyone truly has. Steve’s afternoon then becomes a small, delicate turning point, one that imbues “How It’s Goin'” with poignancy, warmth and a Zen-like sense of equanimity. Though Steve will never stop missing his daughter — and though the reality of divorce is messy and difficult — he can accept where he is, and allow himself and others a small measure of grace in the space that it opens up.