“Surrogate Valentine” isn’t the first movie about the life of a struggling musician, and it probably won’t be the last, but while there’s nothing particularly special about Dave Boyle’s latest film, it has an undeniably sweet quality to it that ultimately wins you over. San Francisco-based musician Goh Nakamura stars as himself, a soft-spoken singer-songwriter who’s barely scraping by when he reluctantly agrees to teach TV actor Danny Turner (Chadd Stoops) how to play guitar for an upcoming movie role. After all, he could use the cash. But when the two embark on a road trip to Seattle for an upcoming gig, Goh discovers that the movie in question is suspiciously similar to his own life – only this time, he might actually end up with the girl (Lynn Chen) he’s been chasing all these years.
Despite having no previous acting experience, Nakamura delivers a surprisingly solid performance that is both natural and charming. Granted, there’s no real acting involved when you’re playing yourself, but he still makes his co-star look like an amateur in comparison. Though Danny is supposed to be a bad actor, Stoops is so dreadful even when he’s not purposefully hamming it up that it stops the film dead in its tracks every time he’s on screen. The chemistry between Nakamura and Chen is much stronger, and it’s hard not to wonder how much better the movie could have been if Boyle had focused more on their relationship than the one between Goh and Danny. “Surrogate Valentine” is still mostly enjoyable thanks to Nakamura’s involvement, but at a lean 75 minutes, there’s no reason that Boyle couldn’t have dug a little deeper into his subject’s life.