Blu-ray Review: Daydream Nation (2010)

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Similar to the way that accidentally recording over the second of three titles on a VHS tape can erase the end of the first film and the beginning of the third so an action flick transforms into a comedy and then a thriller, filmmaker Michael Goldbach builds a coming-of-age drama on the foundation of a horror movie before a love story emerges in his directorial debut.

While summing up the bizarre events that occurred during the year “that nearly everything happened” to Daydream Nation’s self-proclaimed “moodiest girl in the world," Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings), the high school senior foreshadows the insanity that will follow with the warning that “for awhile craziness was in the air… [and] we were all just breathing it in.”

Cinematically speaking of course, overly articulate sharp-witted seventeen-year-old lasses with a flair for the dramatic are a dime-a-dozen in art-house fare.

But once we discover that Caroline’s precancerous widowed sad-sack father made the voluntarily decision to pull up big city stakes and relocate them to a “backwoods hick town” where a serial killer is actively targeting victims in the girl’s demographic of “pretty young things,” airborne insanity seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation to account for Caroline’s odd situation.

However, in accordance of their youth and despite the ominous signs on the side of the road reminding them to travel in pairs, when it comes to the students of Hargrove High, fear of boredom usurps fear of the unidentified villain in the white suit, inspiring Daydream’s teens to either drug themselves into distraction or give into the temporary insanity completely.

From gamely seducing her lonely lit teacher (Josh Lucas) to falling for a troubled burnout (Reece Thompson) who believes he’s “the unluckiest person alive,” Caroline gives both pastimes a try in Goldbach’s increasingly off-the-wall foray into indie madness.

Yet regardless of how many wrong turns she takes along the way, Caroline – and by extension the film overall – never veers too far off course in a journey of self-discovery.

Ambitiously taking quirky dysfunction – which has long been the bread and butter of indie filmmaking – to daring new levels considering not only Daydream’s gender and age reversal of student/teacher affair but the deadly undercurrent of the film as well, in the end we’re left with a flawed, fragmented yet fascinating work that’s as awkward as it is impressive.

But as much as I admire the artistic intent to play it straight rather than attempt to lighten the darkly sardonic material with American Beauty inspired satire, there’s just way too much daydreaming going on in Daydream Nation.

As such, it’s hindered by an inconsistency in tone and structure caused by the fusion of everyday high school clichés with hot button issues.

For as creatively freeing as it is to ignore the rules of any (and every) given genre incorporated in Daydream’s succinct 98 minute running time, because every character arrives with their own baggage including yet another ensemble of supporting cast members and at least two compelling subplots to have easily doubled the film’s length, we can’t help but feel shortchanged by the final collision of events.

A promising debut from the festival circuit that’s bursting with potential -- predicting great things to come for its unfailingly likable lead and its visionary writer/director -- Daydream Nation is perhaps best experienced as an indie companion piece to Easy A, starring Dennings’ House Bunny co-star Emma Stone as yet another whip-smart lass, navigating high school with her own compass.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.