May 18, 2011

Surreal portrait of small town malaise  
Movie Rating: 6/10 DVD Rating: 5/10

Like its DVD cover indicates, Daydream Nation (eOne) doesn't attempt to hide its derivativeness. For starters, its title is cribbed from seminal art-rock outfit Sonic Youth’s 1988 album. You might call this a coincidence, however, one of the film’s principle characters is named Thurston and several Sonic Youth songs are sampled. Even less easy to overlook is the Variety quote slapped across the front that reads: “Juno as reimagined by David Lynch or a funnier, sunnier Donnie Darko.” That’s a lot of associations. 

But who cares about all that if we’re treated to a hip homage or a unique spin on recycled tropes. Unfortunately, the sum of these sources does not amount to much. The script too often buckles under the weight of its myriad subplots, red herrings and artful tangents.

After a very intriguing and elegantly mounted opening montage, the story kicks off with Caroline (Kat Dennings) moving to a hick town with her widowed father for her graduating year at high school. Upon her arrival, she initiates an affair with her English teacher (Josh Lucas) and seduces a mopey peer to be used as a cover. Or is he just that? Their love triangle quickly unravels thanks to Caroline’s fickleness and her adult lover’s ickiness.

Add to this a slew of apocalyptic occurrences – an unrelenting industrial fire, a white-suited serial killer, two fatal car wrecks, plenty of drug-induced freak-outs – none of which add up to anything particularly telling. I recognize the filmmakers’ intent to craft a bizzaro backdrop akin to Juno/David Lynch/Donnie Darko, but the upshot largely feels like a pretentious distraction.   

There are several things to admire. As a precocious and seductive schoolgirl, Dennings plays smart-sexy with more conviction than other young actresses who often receive a little more credit than they deserve. Also likeable are fellow established cast members Josh Lucas and Andy MacDowell, in addition to relative unknown Reece Thompson, who plays Caroline’s younger love interest, Thurston, with intoxicated aplomb.

Jon Joffin’s wistful cinematography is undeniably arresting and, fortunately, this DVD looks and sounds about as good as anyone could hope for such low-budget Canadian fare. As for extras, we’re offered a brief behind-the-scenes doc that’s worth your six minutes.