The Good: Decent writing, Good direction, Engaging story, Interesting characters, Good mood
The Bad: No superlative acting
The Basics: Daydream Nation is a memorable, quirky drama film that follows a likable young protagonist through the most eventful year of her life.
Not since Dreamland (reviewed here!) have I seen an indie film set in a small, seemingly inconsequential place that was preoccupied with mood to such an extent that it dominates the movie and makes the setting seem like a microcosm of the world. So, I have been waiting for Daydream Nation (or a film like it) for years. When I checked out Daydream Nation, I knew nothing about it. Ultimately, the lone reason I actually began the film was the presence of Kat Dennings in the movie; I’m a fan and I was eager to see if this film expanded her range at all.
It did, though the part she plays is essentially a female version of Charlie Bartlett, without his sense of extroversion. While I am not so big on voiceovers, Dennings immediately gets the viewer into Daydream Nation by providing the background exposition that establishes her character, Caroline, in the small town in which she finds herself. In Daydream Nation, Caroline experiences the most eventful year of her life.
Set in a small town during the year of an unending tire fire and the reign of a serial killer, Caroline Wexler finds herself as a new student for her Senior year of high school. Utterly bored by the boys her age, she sets out to seduce her teacher, Barry Anderson. After only a few days of working on him, Caroline succeeds in bedding Barry and the two start a relationship. Her classmate, Thurston - who developed a crush on her at a party they both went to immediately before getting into an accident in which the driver, his friend, died – begins to hit on Caroline and she rejects him in a straightforward, if cruel, way. Avoiding the druggies her age, the taunts of classmates like Jenny, and the fear that comes from living in a small town under siege by a serial killer taking out people her age, Caroline starts to get jealous of Barry’s relationship with another teacher at her school.
When Caroline reads Barry’s manuscript, she objects to the characterization of the character based upon her. In breaking up with him, she sets off a chain of events that will change everything for Barry, Thurston, and herself!
Daydream Nationseems, when describing it, like it could be a particularly lame love triangle story, but it manages to be quite a bit more than that. Like Magnolia (reviewed here!), without the oppressive mood and the multitude of characters, tells a number of stories within the main narrative. Divergences like the Legend Of Laura Lee and The Party, within Daydream Nation smartly keep the pace moving rapidly, without losing the sense that this is a weird place Caroline lives. Moreover, for a character who does a number of pretty terrible things (on a humanist level) to Thurston and, from a societal standpoint, to Barry, Caroline becomes an engaging narrator that the viewer wants to empathize with.
Caroline is a young woman in the process of becoming and that is what makes her feel much more universal than the setting or the extreme things she does. Caroline loathes the kids her age, seeing them for the stupid, destructive behaviors that she wants no part of and that makes it easy even for adults to like her. Caroline has experienced loss – her mother – and that gives her a credible bonding point with Thurston.
Thurston, for his part, makes for a reasonably traumatized child and he is likable in that his healing journey takes real time. Were it not for the unfortunate incest comment made early in the film, the hug his mother gives him would not seem creepy, but the extent of Thurston’s trauma is limited in the film to the abandonment by his father, witnessing his best friend die horribly, and ejaculating with realistic speed his first time with Caroline. Thurston, more than his friends who use absolutely anything in the house to get high with, is likable in that he seems to want more – especially in his earnest quest for Caroline’s love.
The setting goes a long way to establishing and drawing out the mood. The town the film is set in is boring and the high school students are predictably young and moronic. Michael Goldbach, who wrote and directed Daydream Nation is smart enough to make Barry smart enough to understand exactly what is going on with Caroline’s seduction of him. That adds realism and intelligence to a script that could have seem unnaturally quirky.
But for people looking for a smart, introverted drama, Daydream Nation is satisfying, both on the entertainment front and having something larger to say.
For other works with Kat Dennings, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Two Broke Girls - Season 1
Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist
The 40 Year Old Virgin
For other film reviews, check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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