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Daydream Nation
[] Buy posters from this movie
by brianorndorf

"Dennings Does It Darko"
2 stars

It appears writer/director Michael Goldbach really enjoyed Richard Kelly’s 2001 mind-bender, “Donnie Darko.” In fact, he liked it so much, he went out and made a copy for himself, dialing down the sci-fi complexity, but retaining the apocalyptic teen angst routine, performed by a cast of frantic actors who always look bewildered. I can’t blame them, for “Daydream Nation” is an impenetrable, seemingly unfinished saga of love, rage, drugs, and sinister activities, thrown up on the screen all at once. “Donnie Darko” it’s most certainly not, though it finds a few appealing moments underneath the deflating sense of chaos Goldbach is incapable of aiming.

Moving to a troubled small town with her father, Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings) is a lippy brat fully aware of her toxic personality, thrust into a judgmental high school community. To entertain herself, Caroline seduces her English teacher, Barry (Josh Lucas), who delights in the attention, finding their sexual relationship igniting his passion for writing. Traumatized burnout Thurston (Reece Thompson) also pines for Caroline, though his cripplingly low self-esteem sabotages his attempts to woo the tart teen. While the kids work out their impulses to create and destroy, a serial killer is on the loose, forcing the residents, already confronted with a nearby industrial fire, to exercise caution as they go about their daily business of suppressing pain.

“Daydream Nation” is a picture that flirts with surreal business but never quite commits to the eccentricity. It’s a frustrating picture that looks to emotional turbulence as a way of achieving profundity, skipping essential narrative points along the way, making this cast of idiosyncratic residents strangers instead of ideal guides into dark places of frustration. Goldbach has plenty of visual ideas, yet there’s little depth to the screenplay, which rests on bizarre behavior to make a quick impression. Everyone seems to be emotionally wounded or fearful of the doomsday scenario the writing is constructing, but connective tissue is lost. Critical confrontational moments arrive without warning, lacking needed foundation to best appreciate the intended agony. “Daydream Nation” is just too random to launch the sensitivity Goldbach is obviously building to, sustaining a lone surface note of rural poison for far too long.

The empty script is exemplified by Caroline, who’s an unlikable smart-ass, engaging in destructive behavior she knows is wrong -- a revelation that’s made early, but never developed beyond a few teary bouts of anger. Instead of a complex female protagonist with severe intimacy issues, Goldbach shapes the character into a standard-issue fanged teen, supplied with a monotone sarcastic pucker by Dennings, who’s yet to deviate from this pouty routine. She’s one-note poison in a picture that yearns for shades of distress.

While “Daydream Nation” fails to satisfy on a dramatic level, the film is gorgeously shot by Jon Joffin, who delivers an eerie composure to the proceedings, playing with depth of field and lighting, always keeping the frame interesting. The movie has an exciting visual personality, helping to sell the threat and misery Goldbach is consumed with. It’s a feature that could easily be viewed with the mute button activated, permitting the viewer to drink up the colors and atmosphere, getting lost in the magic hour comfort.

“Daydream Nation” wanders through ill-defined supporting characters, drug experimentation, and some light horror overtones with the serial killer fixation. It’s a busy picture, but an inconsequential one, with a conclusion that doesn’t tie together all the scripted labor, failing to climax with an authoritative event that pays off all the semi-established oddity. “Daydream Nation” is a mess, but a gorgeous mess. Come for the flaccid teen distress, stay for the stunning imagery.

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originally posted: 05/07/11 06:19:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/20/11 mr.mike It was OK . 3.5 stars. 3 stars
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  DVD: 17-May-2011


  DVD: 17-May-2011

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