Daydream Nation is the directorial debut for Canadian director Michael Goldbach. Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas and Reece Thompson star in this dramedy about a teenage girl who gets caught up in a dangerous love triangle. Stylish and smartly directed, this Juno-esque film gives Dennings a chance to finally shine and carry a film by herself, which she does so admirably. While it’s not without problems, Daydream Nation is a wholly acceptable directorial debut from Goldbach and leaves me interested to see where he goes next.
The film follows Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings), a sophisticated, defiant and intelligent girl. She’s lives in a small town, which she describes as “a stupefyingly friendly place full of wholesome God-fearing, gun-bearing folk” and “with more incest than in an Atom Egoyan film.”. At her school, she’s more of an outsider and doesn’t fully fit in.
And so, she starts up a relationship with Barry Anderson (Josh Lucas), her teacher. To keep herself grounded though, they decide that their relationship will be just about the sex and to balance things out, she starts a real relationship with her classmate Thurston (Reece Thompson). A love triangle forms and complications arise, especially with the introduction of a seemingly ever burning industrial fire and a serial killer subplot, which comes off just as out of place as it sounds.
Dennings, full of snark and wit and reminiscent of Ellen Page in Juno, turns Caroline into a sexy smart ass. In her first real leading role, Dennings carries the film wonderfully, showing that she’s more than capable of taking on a lead role. She’s confident, entertaining and in a way, captivating. She’s very watchable and more than proves herself. Backing her up are Josh Lucas and Reece Thompson. Lucas is always dependable and while he doesn’t do anything special with the material, he’s adequate in the role, providing more of a handsome face than anything else. As for Thompson, the relatively unknown actor has something of a breakout, coming from nowhere and giving an honest and heartfelt performance.
Goldbach takes cues from both Richard Kelly and David Lynch, shrouding his film in surreal moments and idiosyncrasies.While he mostly shows confidence in handling the camera, he becomes a bit too ambitious at times, forcing the film into an unwanted self-referential territory. He shoots stylishly and adds in the appropriate indie soundtrack but at times it seems like he’s biting off more than he can chew.
A couple of the subplots, namely the serial killer one, become maddening. And, at times, it comes off as just another teenage girl comes of age story, much in the sense of Juno of Clueless. It feels like a movie we’ve seen so many times before, there’s a sense of familiarity that we just can’t shake. Not helping matters is the fact that the screenplay just isn’t deep enough to make us really care. A lot of it feels very empty and one note. Caroline isn’t a complex and intricate character like she should be and we never really find out as much about her as we’d like to. Not enough is revealed.
As a filmmaker Goldbach does a fine job but perhaps he should leave the writing up to someone else next time because as a storyteller he still has a ways to go. The plot becomes too random as it goes on and it culminates in an unsatisfying ending. Making up for this is Jon Joffin’s cinematography, which keeps the film visually intriguing with almost every frame. The movie is very pleasing on the eye and it’s almost alluring in the dreamily way it’s shot.
So like I said before, Daydream Nation isn’t a bad first time out for Goldbach, but he does have a bit to learn. He shows potential and I’ll certainly keep my eye on him. I’m interested to see where he goes next as I do think he’s a filmmaker to watch out for. With his debut, he shows a lot of good ideas but things just become a bit too messy. The film will undoubtedly find its niche, but as it stands, it’s nothing special.
Check out our interview with director Michael Goldbach.
All three leads do a good job and the film is visually appealing. As a director, Goldbach shows promise.