Image Entertainment // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // February 15th, 2010
Do something you're afraid of.
Dare, the feature-length movie by screenwriter David Brind and director Adam Salky, is an expansion of their original 16-minute short film. Like seemingly every other independent movie, it depicts the exquisite anguish of being young, misunderstood, and sexually frustrated; but despite traversing this well-trodden territory, it still manages to be intriguing, engaging, and more than a little titillating.
The film's narrative is divided into three sections, one for each of its main characters. Alexa (Emmy Rossum, Mystic River) is a rich overachiever with ambitions of forgoing an Ivy League education to become an actress. However, her passion for acting gets diverted when she falls for school bad boy Johnny (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights), her co-star in the school's production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Trouble is, Alexa's best friend Ben (Ashley Singer, The Visitor) has the hots for Johnny, as well. This trouble is compounded when Johnny -- a conflicted alpha male if there ever was one -- doesn't want to choose; he wants emotional and sexual healing from them both.
This film shares commonalities with many of the teen-film touchstones of the last thirty years: the high-school caste system of The Breakfast Club; the venom of Heathers; and the sexuality of Cruel Intentions. Unlike all those, though, Dare aspires to be a realistic portrayal of teen angst, with mixed results.
The film's best attribute is its characters and the across-the-board strong performances. Though all the leads could easily fit into caricatures (overachieving nerd, sensitive homosexual, and brooding jock), the writing is sharp and pierces beneath the stereotypes. In scene after scene, the dialogue seems natural (a rarity in teen dramas), not only revealing the personalities of each character, but allowing them to change as the story develops.
Rossum and Gilford, in particular, are engrossing. Her scene with Alan Cumming (who makes a cameo as a alum made successful stage actor) is the best in the film and a perfect foundation for her character. Though Gilford has made an indelible impression as the sincere and awkward Saracen on Friday Night Lights, he delivers a cool and brooding performance here that is nearly James Dean-esque. I didn't know he had it in him, but he has to be considered a young actor with limitless potential.
While the film also displays great promise for Bring and Salky, Dare is far from flawless. Though teenagers are notoriously fickle, the character's motivations here are often elusive or inscrutable. Characters shift from being awkward and mumbly to sexually voracious and then back again seemingly at the whim of the story. Additionally, the intense interactions between the three leads is often sexually charged, but when the smoke clears there's little emotional resonance -- amongst the characters, but with the audience as well. Watching Dare is like meeting a charming, attractive person at a party, then learning they're already in a relationship: it was fun flirting, but nothing lasting resulted from the experience.
Unfortunately, but not surprising considering its modest beginnings, Dare's picture and audio leaves a lot to be desired. Though the Blu-ray features 1080p HD resolution, the source material is grainy, pixilated, and often poorly lit. It isn't incredibly distracting, but I've gotten used to marveling at the picture quality on Blu-ray discs. The audio is not as glaringly poor, though the rear channels are rarely employed. The film does have a good soundtrack, with a score provided by Duncan Sheik and some great musical cues (in particular Elbow's song "Snooks Progress Report").
The disc does partially redeem itself with a generous bevy of extras. The highlight by far is the commentary track by Brind and Salky. I think the best commentary tracks are on independent films, since those involved are usually less guarded, more enthusiastic, and have good stories about the rigors of making a movie on a small budget. Here, Brind and Salky are personable and informative, explaining the filming process and the personal nature of the movie. Another nice touch is the original, 16-minute short film of Dare, which helped secure the funding for the feature. Lastly, there are some deleted scenes, an audition by Emmy Rossum (I wish more movies included these), and a trailer.
Not guilty. Now get out of my courtroom, you crazy kids.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film
* Official Site