by Greg Muskewitz
Jake Gyllenhaal takes the title role of Donnie, a disturbed teenager suffering from schizophrenia. His life is miraculously spared when he follows the voice of Frank, a giant bunny, who causes Donnie to leave the house so that later that night when a plane engine randomly slams through his room, he isn’t there. (A very surreal event in light of the crash of flight 587 in Rockaway Beach, made even more surreal when you saw the film on the same day!)Things start to happen in this odd suburbia, a hell of sorts, where one of the teachers forces her students to watch educational videos far worse than “Degrassy Junior High,” about identifying and eliminating fear out of your life, and welcoming love. (The cheesy host is Patrick Swayze.) The man in the bunny suit tells Donnie that the world is going to end in 28 days, on October 31, 1988. In addition to picking up Jena Malone as his girlfriend (He asks her, “You wanna go with me?”/ “Go with you where?”/ “That’s what they call it [dating] around here”), Donnie has visions or fantasies about the bunny telling him to do things, such as break the school’s watermain or set the video-host’s house on fire, all of which lead to positive things coming of it when they do occur. Yet still, stranger events ensue, questions of time travel and God, an old woman named Grandma Death who may have the answers to the questions that Donnie isn’t sure of himself.
"...a genre bending amalgamation..."
Donnie Darko qualifies as being a bit of a genre bender, amalgamating science-fiction, comedy, dark comedy, social commentary, to a brew that despite its being somewhat uneven, still manages to stitch and weave clever patches with the differing styles and forms. The hellish suburbia is not unrecognizable, with hints of Cronenberg, Lynch, Wenders, Burton, Aronofsky, and any other number of palpable, accessible sources. Kelly tends to obscure and becloud any answers or revelations at the end by curtly cutting out. In that sense, when it comes to the question of whether Donnie’s fantasies were fantasies or realities, or if his sacrifice negated the end of the world, and if it did or didn’t, does that mean that the bad will keep happening-that what he discovered along his way is once again buried and hidden only with the minute possibility of them being unearthed again-Kelly resembles Lynch’s current stance on remaining private in his intentions and motivations. In other words, solve it on your own; posit a solution that works for you. Donnie Darko has an austere but clever exposition, however unsuccessful it is using all the patchwork with the best end-result (though the use of Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ song “Mad World” is brilliant and even poignant). The film is poorly lit and too heavy on blotchy shadows, but on more than one occasion, it transcends its shell. Jake Gyllenhaal proves himself to be one of the most impressive young actors I’ve seen recently (showing that Freddie Prinze, Jr. is no more than detritus). His sister, memorable to me from Cecil B. DeMented only by name, is also beneficial to have around, but not quite as much as Malone. Too often Malone dips into the recesses of the celluloid storeroom and I forget just how much I enjoy her performances until she is suddenly in something I’m watching. It almost makes me want to see Life as a House just for her.
With Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Beth Grant, Noah Wyle, Daveigh Chase, Patience Cleveland, James Duval and Jolene Purdy as Cherita (“Chut-up!”) Chen.Final Verdict: B+.
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originally posted: 11/17/01 12:32:48