Friday, October 15, 2004

donnie darko

people have been raving about this film for a while now, & the DVD cover isn't exactly empty of praise: "a compelling motion picture", "a shattering, hypnotic work" etc. triple j (an australian 'youth' radio station) & now SBS's central movie buff, megan spencer, proclaimed it "one of those rare movie gems. truly flawless, unforgettable, & exciting". i expected something more formally risque than the sleek intelligent teenage page-turner 'donnie darko' turned out to be.

'donnie darko' is more seamless than flawless. it successfully combines bits & pieces from various niche-genres which festered throughout the 90's - the teenage horror-thriller (admittedly these have been around for bloody ages, but they had a serious resurgence around the time of 'scream'), the detective-fiction-inspired whodunnit-multi-plot-mystery (in which various plot strands/characters combine & culminate in an explanatory ending that's only 'exciting' once; see 'the sixth sense', 'the usual suspects' etc), the fast-talking, quick-scripted pop-culture-savvy-bourgeois-adolescent/mid-twenties drama (see a kevin smith flick, or maybe 'reality bites') & the music video (donnie darko makes apparently amazing use of short, tracking-shot set pieces backed by famous 80's tunes; these are interesting but hardly artistically formidable, & they only work to distract us from the old-hat linearity of the film as a whole). indeed it probably derives its mildly exciting linear style (i.e. chapter-title-like headings, "2 october 1988, 20 days remain" etc, every 20 minutes or so) from kubrick's 'the shining', even tho kubrick's 'chapters' are far more effective because they have such an ambiguous temporal function.

ambiguity is good, filmmakers! ambiguity is not the very 'american beauty'-ish electro-piano score that seeks to infuse every scene with a sense of neat-suburban sadness. ambiguity is not in the ambivalence of this film's 'edward scissorhands' stylistic attitude to small-suburbia itself; it's all very well to shed a laughable light over suburban homes/schools & personalities, but to then unashamedly utilise almost every american-suruban-teen-film plot/character device available (the 'different' but cool lead character, his disenchanted but intelligent lover, the two dumb-talking court-jester kids (through whom is best expressed the kevin smith slacker script-spirit), the two rude & equally stupid 'bad guys', the completely off-the-planet gym teacher, & the mildly off-the-planet but loving & stable parental unit) - what does this say of the director/writer's underlying motivations? that he overlaid this movie's 80's-based-strange-time-travel-slasher-detective-fiction-subject-matter on an essentially generic (read: unambiguous & unchallenging) linear-narrative template. this film ain't nothing new. it's "ferris bueller's day off" + the stylistic/narrative influences i mentioned above. which is not necessarily a bad thing.

& yet there's potential in various aspects of this film - the wonderful performances & chemistry between gyllenhaal & jena malone, the fine song-selection in certain scenes (the final 'mad world' montage is moving, in spite of it being based on an archaic & out-of-place omniscience), the pristine outdoor lighting - to suggest a truly hypnotic & unforgettable step forward for the artform might be just around the corner. perhaps.

8 Comments:

Blogger anita said...

Ah, foxy. Your review of the Elephant Man I agree with (Anthony Hopkins owns everything he's ever been in) - but how the fuck did you squeeze in so many references to 2001? Good work. I couldn't think of two more different films, but well done.

I remember enjoying Donnie Darko at the time I saw it, but with the retrospectoscope I think it's actually pretty forgettable. So Megan Spencer can shove her "truly flawless and unforgettable" shtick. For it to have been compelling and shattering and all that it should have been a lot more risque - it was pretty mainstream (well, more or less)

Have you seen Napoleon Dynamite? It's really good, but doesn't pretend to be anything other than the Revenge of the Nerds story it is. Check it out...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=%22Donnie+Dynamite%22+playable:true

Donnie Dynamite. Seemed relevant...

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