DAYDREAM NATION (2011)
Starring Kat Dennings, Reece Thompson, Andie MacDowell, Josh Lucas, Rachel Blanchard, Ted Whittall, Luke Camilleri, Natasha Calis, Quinn Lord, Calum Worthy, Landon Liboiron, Laura Jacobs and Katie Boland.
Screenplay by Mike Goldbach.
Directed by Mike Goldbach.
Distributed by eOne Films. 96 minutes. Rated R.
Teen angst is always a dangerous balancing act for filmmakers. Daydream Nation is just the latest of this crowded subgenre, skewing a bit in the surreal direction but also having some very well-drawn characters mixed in with some who are – well less so. It ends up being sort of like Donnie Darko meets Easy A – an odd fit, but not without certain intrigue.
Perhaps the biggest fault in the movie is that the lead character – though she has some fascinating shades – is not nearly as consistently interesting as some of the others orbiting around her. Part of this comes from the fact that her personality seems to change with the wind. She is an insecure loner in one scene, a heartless ball-buster in another, alternately sappily romantic and staggeringly cynical – essentially she is something of an enigma.
This enigma is Caroline Wexler – well played by Kat Jennings (Thor), who has portrayed similar characters before but always does it well. As Daydream Nation opens, Caroline’s dad takes the city girl and moves her to a small town where the quiet lives of desperation mask a toxically unhappy undertow.
This is one of those indie movie small towns that is a bit over the top in its evil and peril. Beyond the normal boredoms of small town life, this one is being plagued by both an out-of-control industrial fire and a serial killer, two plot tangents which are neither explored enough to merit their inclusion in the story. They are more symbolic of the rot of the town – which is okay, I suppose, but they do not add much to the actual plotline.
Caroline, a beautiful but caustically unhappy girl, starts out trying to fit in somewhat, but eventually decides to be a cruise missile to the heart of the hypocrisy of the town. She seduces her English teacher – played with charming sleaziness by the always good Josh Lucas – though as the story goes on the character is essentially emasculated and becomes a much less interesting, pathetic character.
At the same time, Caroline is being shyly pursued by Thurston, a neurotic local kid with a crush – played by Reece Thompson. Early on Caroline leads him on, but she comes to actually kinda like him and his eccentric mother (played by a wonderfully game Andie McDowell.)
There is an awful lot of stuff going on in the film – sometimes to the point that writer and first-time director Michael Goldbach (who also wrote a similarly stimulating-but-uneven 2004 film called Childstar) loses control of his plot. However, he does have an extremely good ear for dialogue and certain subplots – like the charmingly awkward attraction between Caroline’s father and Thurston’s mother – give the film a sweetly off-kilter reality.
Sadly, Caroline’s two major relationships are not quite so arresting, her halting courtship with Thurston feels a little rushed – we never quite know why she changes her mind and decides to give him a chance. At the same time, the relationship with the teacher goes completely off the rails, turning an interesting if morally-questionable character into a bit of a parody.
Still, strong performances by Dennings (even if her character is written unevenly, she sells it consistently), Thompson, McDowell, Ian Robison (as Caroline’s dad) and a heartbreaking Katie Boland (as an insecure classmate with a crush) make Daydream Nation worth the visit.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 6, 2011.