Anchor Bay // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 12th, 2011
The rather simple tale of a smart girl doing stupid things in a highly stylized setting.
Right on the front of the box for this movie was a quote from Variety that pulled me right in, "...Juno as reimagined by David Lynch, or a funnier, sunnier Donnie Darko." Like many of you out there, I perk up and pay attention when I hear Lynch or Darko brought up. Turns out in the final analysis these references are a little bit off. Daydream Nation is nowhere near as dark as any David Lynch film, nor is it quite as inscrutable and deliciously dense as Donnie Darko. It has a high, glossy style that often looks surreal, but at its heart it is a simple story about smart teens doing dumb things.
Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) has just been moved from a big city to a very small town for her senior year of high school. She decides she's gonna spark some interest in her dreary new surroundings by seducing her handsome English teacher (Josh Lucas, Poseidon). Yet a certain stoner (Reece Thompson, Dreamcatcher) has also caught her eye, and he's a bit more appropriate in age. Caroline finds herself in a lovers triangle while moving through a surreal nowhere where serial killers rampage and industrial fires burn endlessly on the horizon.
The film works on its own merits, and does just fine with the idea of a too-smart-for-her-own-good girl mucking her way through some hyper stylized scenery. It has surreal touches to it, but the story never is pulled off track by any of the broad cinematic strokes heaped on it by Canadian director Mike Goldbach (Childstar). The title Daydream Nation, all too self aware, is a reference to an old Sonic Youth album, and the movie revels in its hipster lingo while focusing on a sexually precocious seventeen-year-old-girl. It gives her impossibly droll and self assured dialogue, but Kat Dennings pulls it all off nicely. Josh Lucas gets the thankless role of the none-too-bright teacher who is too easily seduced, but he remains charming enough to make us swallow his poor choices. Reece Thompson plays his stoner teen sweetly without any painful Cheech and Chong homages. If you're in the mood for stylish teen angst, Daydream Nation delivers well.
I'm not sure why this one has to be seen on Blu-ray. The visuals are good, but the budget wasn't huge meaning it is small and intimate in scale. It will all look fine on DVD to be honest. That said, the transfer is well done with nice, natural flesh tones and well-saturated black levels. The palette of the entire project has a washed out look, but that all stands to support the themes of the story. The full surround audio track lets you hear the dialogue clearly and adds punch to the hipster soundtrack selections. The biggest disappointment comes in a seven minute behind-the-scenes featurette which for some reason is only shown in the upper left hand corner of the screen. It doesn't reveal much, and it looks like a silly, coy afterthought.
This film is a nice and funny, slightly surreal journey through a girl's coming of age in the middle of nowhere. Daydream Nation captures the desperation of teens who find themselves bored too easily, and gives them a voice in an overly stylized way. It's a little bit Dawson's Creek meets Twin Peaks starring one of the Heathers if we have to mix metaphors, but honestly it does its own thing. Any comparisons fall short of what it does well, which is to look at teens without sympathy and show them as cunning creatures who sometimes do the wrong thing without much thought. The lead girl speaks a little too self-assuredly with her bitchy bon mots, but Dennings does nicely with making us believe she could actually get away with it. The visuals are a great delight, and the soundtrack is chock full of neat tunes. This is a nice diversion if you're up for it, but don't expect it to be too deep.
Guilty of being hip enough to be named after a Sonic Youth album.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R