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.
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)