CAPSULE: DAYDREAM NATION (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Michael Goldbach

FEATURING: Kat Dennings, Reece Thompson, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell, Ted Whittall

PLOT: A teenage girl and her dad move to a small town populated with drug-addled teenagers and a mysterious serial killer. Feeling alienated and struggling to make friends, she sees a fellow intellectual outcast in her English teacher and decides to seduce him, while her bumbling classmate Thurston starts to fall for her.

Still from Daydream Nation (2010)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though its dark undertones, nonlinear format, and attempts to comment on the violence and sexiness apparently inherent to small-town teenagers have garnered comparisons to Donnie Darko and Twin Peaks, this is just an angsty, poorly-scripted knockoff with very little true weirdness.

COMMENTS: Narrated by the gorgeous Kat Dennings, who switches back and forth between her recent past and the present, Daydream Nation attempts to mesh poignant high school drama with erratic comedy and suburban darkness.  Caroline, our protagonist, is intelligent and disaffected, often sneaking in awkwardly sophisticated references that her peers don’t understand.  She embarks on a relationship with her teacher on a lark, in an effort to try something new and become a different person for a while; the unstable Mr. Anderson quickly becomes obsessively infatuated with her.  Their relationship falters as Caroline starts responding to the advances of Thurston (Reece Thompson), a druggie classmate mourning the recent death of a friend.  These core proceedings are surrounded by a lingering industrial fire, serial killings, parental interventions, and a ghost or two.

Seemingly shot entirely through a high-contrast haze, the film offers a few visual treats but nothing in the way of ingenuity.  The same can be said for the script, which has a few shining moments of interest but lingers in derivative mediocrity for most of the runtime.  Writer/director Michael Goldbach doesn’t seem to have much confidence in his ability to tell a story, inundating us with unnecessary amounts of narration and several needless plot devices.  The central character of Caroline—while played wonderfully by Kat Dennings—suffers the most. The best parts of the film involve her speaking her mind, calling out the hypocrisy and sexism of those around her, but these scenes are immediately followed by the character chastising herself in private, thinking herself a “bitch” just because she spoke the truth. It’s as if Goldbach wanted to write a strong female character, but then lost his momentum and copped out to typical gender stereotypes.

Daydream Nation aims for subtlety, but comes out with blaring obviousness thanks to the clumsy pacing and script. The performances from Dennings, Thompson, Lucas, and MacDowell are solid, but can’t save the ridiculous dialogue or self-indulgent shooting style (not that I’m complaining about the myriad drawn-out, close-up shots of Dennings, but really, it’s all a bit much). And it isn’t even that weird!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…rolls elements of ‘Juno,’ ‘American Beauty,’ ‘Donnie Darko’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ into a potent blunt.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

7 thoughts on “CAPSULE: DAYDREAM NATION (2010)”

  1. I can’t believe how off this review is. This movie was gorgeous and incredibly funny and quotable. All my friends and I loved it! I think Alex Kittle either missed the point or wasn’t paying much attention.

  2. BTW, this reviewer completely missed the point of the scene where Caroline calls herself a bitch. To anyone with a heart it’s obvious she feels bad because she just tore a strip off a girl much less strong than her. This doesn’t make her weak or a “gender stereotype”. It makes her a real person.
    Sheeeesh.

  3. Amanda: I’m glad you and your friends enjoyed the film so much, but it clearly wasn’t for me! I’m confused about you mean when you say I “missed the point”, though. What do you think “the point” was? Did I miss something plot-wise?

    Also what frustrates me about the way Caroline chastises herself for telling the truth is because it negates the positive messages she’s giving out, and therefore negates her status as an empowered female character. I thought it was great when she called out her classmate for saying she was a “slut” because that’s a derision that really needs to stop between girls, and she was completely right to be against Barry’s ridiculous simplification of her- turning her into a manic pixie dream girl for his book. I guess that feeling bad about it makes it more “real” but really, she had nothing to feel bad about from my point of view, and it seemed to me the writer/director is saying she should. And it’d just be nice if we all stopped using the word “bitch” in general, I think, but that’s just a personal thing I guess.

  4. My impression as a fan of the film is that she’s a teenage girl and has peaks and valleys of confidence, and that she is sometimes overly cruel. So it makes sense that she could deliver a witty tirade and then regret it a moment later. To me the movie was filled with moments like that that lead you one way and then under-cut to mean something else more interesting. I’ve seen enough films where the protagonist says a know-it-all speech and we’re all awed by it. But to then have them regret the speech is a new angle. And then later in the film she tries the same speech again and it is under-cut even more when the Reece Thompson character pokes holes in it. Your interpretation doesn’t seem subtle to me — just didactic. Strong female=good, anything less = bad writing. I understand if that’s what you want from your films, but not me.
    And for what it’s worth I’m definitely a feminist.

    1. I loved the eye candy and the story was just fun. What I didn’t buy into at all was the romance (ok, I’m baesid!). It didn’t seem flushed out. I believe they fell in lust, but not love. Her character was a bit unremarkable and forgettable. I actually thought it would’ve been much more fun if he fell for her assistant.

  5. Wow……a civil discussion on a message board. Whats the world coming too!!
    I thought this movie was heaps of fun. To be honest Kat D was not my favorite at all. I liked the teacher and the other kid better. Great dialogue, agree it was quotable and smart. Agree with Alex that I didn’t think it was weird, but totally better than 99% of teen movies.
    Kim

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