Anchor Bay // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // May 9th, 2011
It was the year that everything happened.
A hot student hooking up with her teacher is a well-worn premise that comes with a certain amount of sexy promise, but temper your expectations when it comes to Daydream Nation. For writer/director Michael Goldbach, this is a fine debut feature. In his attempt to turn the plot on its head with dark comedy and romance, though, he winds up with too much happening and not going far enough with any of it. It's not a bad film, but it's not sexy enough, funny enough, or dark enough for me to bring myself to care very much at all.
Arriving in a small town at a new school is tough for Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings, Defendor). Her mom has recently died and she finds her classmates to be hillbilly fools. So where does a gorgeous big city girl turn for sophisticated friends? The stoners, of course. Finding this not quite stimulating enough she decides to try seducing Mr. Anderson (Josh Lucas, Stealth), her Lit teacher. This proves easier than expected and they begin a torrid affair. While Mr. A starts falling for Caroline, she decides to start dating one of the stoners as cover. But when naive young Thurston (Reece Thompson, The Sandlot 2) starts getting wrapped up in her charms, as well, Caroline starts to learn the consequences of manipulating people's feelings.
For a dark comedy to work at all, it has to have a nasty streak, and Daydream Nation just doesn't have it. There's a little bit of gallows humor and some tough talk, but talk is all that it is. In the end, Goldbach tries to show the sweet side of the movie, but he can't have it both ways. He undermines the cynical smarm that's somewhat interesting from the first two-thirds of the film with an attempt at redemption and true love that doesn't fit in at all and is thoroughly unbelievable as a result. It doesn't exactly ruin the movie; there's enough that's decent about it to keep it reasonably afloat, but these attempts by the director make the film seem soft and keep it from working nearly as well as it could.
Still, it's a decent, if underwhelming, debut from Goldbach. His script has a Juno quality that some will like and others will find irritating, but that quality is consistent in the characters and dialog, which is all I really need. It moves along at a decent pace and even has a nice sense of style, with some strange and amusing little asides and tasteful, artistic love scenes. It just never gels into any kind of truly satisfying whole.
The big problem lies in the motivations of the characters, which torpedo the story. I like Kat Dennings and, even in this mostly one note performance, she's a charming actress. It almost forgives the fact that her character's actions make little sense. For her, it may have been a year where she was somebody different, but that doesn't quite justify why a girl who, by all rights, was an upstanding student decides that her first two actions would be to get high and bang her teacher. It makes a little more sense than why Mr. A is so quick to abandon all ethics and common sense to get involved with her. This is given something of an explanation in the twist at the end, but it's not enough. To his credit, Josh Lucas throws himself into the role, as does Reece Thompson as Caroline's younger suitor. Neither character really has much life though which, outside of a few small instances, is mostly in step with the rest of the film.
From Anchor Bay, the disc for Daydream Nation is adequate for a recent indie film, but nothing spectacular. The image has a little softness to it that I believe is intentional to give a feeling of nostalgia. Otherwise, there's solid detail and good colors. The sound fares about the same. While it's not a particularly dynamic surround mix, the dialog is all clear and the music is good and strong. The only extra is a seven minute making of featurette where everybody talks about how proud they are of each other. It's your standard fluff piece.
Mike Goldbach shows some promise in his debut feature, but that doesn't make Daydream Nation a great film. It's stylish with decent performances and a story that moves along pretty well, but you're in for a tough road if you're going to try to be simultaneously sweet and cynical. The two things don't go together very well and, as a result, the film pulls too many punches to demonstrate either tone effectively. There's nothing terrible about the film, but precious little stands out. I can see some people really liking Daydream Nation, but I just didn't care.
Review content copyright © 2011 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R