Review: “Donnie Darko”

If your the kind of person who loves life, the wonders of god’s creation and the fact that everything in your life has been (at least for a majority of it) going your way then your the kind of person I’d probably despise.

This is a film for the cynics and manic depressives out there – the ones who feel stuck in a rut, the one’s who are rarely if ever satisfied with anything. The ones who feel out of sync with the rest of the world not because your lagging behind, but rather you don’t see the point of being a part of gatherings where people show off their latest materialistic acquisition or over exaggerate events and relationships with people they’ve met in a desperate attempt to appear ‘hip’ or successful, when in reality they’re doing it just to try and get laid or more often than not hide the fact their lives are very empty and alone which is a condition they can’t stand but one you’ve dealt with for years and now feel safe in.

Whew! If that’s a sentence whose meaning you completely understand and sympathise with then you know my mindset. Cynical? Yes, but like everyone we’re just looking or someone to love and/or be friends with – but aren’t willing to put up with all the bullshit that society tries to pressure on people – we’re jaded but deep down under all the scars we’re hopeful too.

Richard Kelly seems to understand that with “Donnie Darko”, a truly superb genre-defying debut film with an excellent cast, superb script and twisted imagery which results in one of the most creative and original films in a while. ‘Donnie’ is like an “American Beauty” for a cult audience – a social satire of the 80’s combining elements of psychological thriller, theories of time travel, family dysfunction, various odd FX, a psycho looking bunny rabbit, and camera angles that seem very David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick in style though with storylines that actually make sense.

Its very hard to pin down the effort into any one genre which proves a good thing as the constant shifting of tones keeps the pace moving briskly and sly yet subtle references to 80’s culture (which basically stabs those “feel good 80’s teen movies” in the throat) are deftly worked into the storyline.

This is the first performance by Gyllenhaal I’ve seen and the guy is excellent, the actor in question has the perfect look and atmosphere of a charismatic yet disturbed young man with a lot of stored up intelligence, confusion and angst – certainly an actor to watch out for in the future. Other great performances come from the always lovable Mary McDonnell as Donnie’s mother in a nicely understated turn, and Patrick Swayze as a self-help guru – but some surprises do show with the likes of Drew Barrymore in a so-so character despite the fact she looks more gorgeous in his than in any film I’ve previously seen her.

One thing I truly love about this is the comedy which ranges from the obvious (a dinner conversation about the definition of f*ckass), to the ridiculous (a teen literally and openly snorting cocaine out of a fellow student’s locker), to the sublime (the jet engine crash). The lines and visual gags that come out from the various students aren’t just funny but sound entirely believable for their age bracket (these aren’t Dawson Creek-esque hyper smart teens).

The sequences with Frank the Bunny are unsettlingly creepy thanks to lighting and visual tone (esp. one bit in a bathroom), and the use of title cards to ‘count down to the end of the world’ do keep a sense of buildup and flow moving and increasing toward a climax. However its the climax which ultimately sabotages the 90 minutes before it which was quickly on its way to becoming a cult classic of “Heathers” proportions.

Sadly, in that last 30 minutes (the day the world ends) ‘Donnie’ goes somewhat off the rails with the ultimate climax which’ll leave viewers confused, disoriented and unsatisfied. Little hints or questions raised throughout the film are revealed but the main question of “What in the hell happened?” remains anyone’s guess. The post climax epilogue is also an extremely sad segment which will probably spoil it for some hoping for a more upbeat and satirical ending more in line with the film’s tone earlier.

Still, its not enough to put a downbeat on what is truly one of the most eye-opening and original films of the year. Kelly is certainly a man to watch out for in the future and it’ll be interesting to see how he tops this wonderfully creative effort.