By Chris Gore | November 15, 2001

I firmly believe that no filmmaker actually tries to make a bad film. Okay, Lloyd Kaufman from Troma tries, but pretty much everyone else in the industry goes into production with high aspirations and good intentions. And sometimes those intentions sound great when the idea is first proposed. Like, “Hey, let’s make an indie art film for teenagers!” The idea sounds great in theory, but in the case of “Donnie Darko,” the final result is less than successful, though not for lack of trying.

“Donnie Darko” stars Jake (Bubble Boy) Gyllenhaal as troubled teen Donnie Darko. (That name sounds so cool. Say it over and over again — Donnie Darko, Donnie Darko, Donnie Darko.) Anyway, Donnie has been having some bizarre dreams and his therapist is no help. After lashing out at his family, Donnie lashes out at school and then lashes out at the community at large. That Donnie Darko is a true rebel. The whole thing gets more strange and convoluted as a large bunny who inhabits Donnie Darko’s dreams informs him of the precise time that the world will end, which is in about 30 days. Donnie Darko is filled with angst and his special effects-laden dreams aren’t helping anything. In the middle of all this contrived “weirdness,” Noah Wylie drops by, Drew Barrymore plays a teacher with no real purpose in the story and Patrick Swayze is revealed to be a self-help guru with an ominous dark side.

Sure, the film looks good, but all I could think about as I watched the over-the-top, digital effects-filled dream sequences is how great the trailer for this film was going to be. Ultimately, there are some really fascinating ideas that are explored in “Donnie Darko.” Too many, in fact. If only first-time writer/director Richard Kelly had simply settled on exploring just a few of those concepts within a coherent story, instead of jamming in so many, perhaps the result would have been more successful. I actually prefer the film’s official web site, which acts as something of a sequel to the film. (It’s very cool and is actually much better than the film. Funny, because the site is actually “written” by the same guy.) I guess what bothered me the most is the utter “importance” that was placed on every insight revealed along the way. As if the filmmaker were bashing you over the head to say, “You better pay attention because parts of this film are really, really deep and meaningful.” Well, for some, maybe, but not for me. This is really one of those Rorschach test films. You either love it or hate it. For those who loved it, I have only one word: overrated.

If you want real weirdness, if you want a bizarre, dream-like film done well, you can’t go wrong if you see any film made by David Lynch. But, you know, Lynch is the master. I sure would love to see Lloyd Kaufman’s version of this story featuring some teenage girl. Lloyd could call it, “Connie Crapo.”

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  1. ken says:

    i agree wholeheartedly…this movie was, and even still is, staggeringly overrated. it is a titanic triumph of style over substance. but hey, all the trendy kiddies love it, so it must be good.

  2. Dieter says:

    You just about hit the nail on the head. This movie was total crap. It’s been over a decade since I’ve seen it but I remember thinking when the movie was over how much I was going to miss that portion of my life. The only people who enjoy this film are wannabe-intellectual hipsters. I always hear the same things, “You don’t understand it”, ” It’s open for interpretation.”. However this film is quite simple: either she dies or he does. The film itself is incredibly boring and lacks any substance. If you think this movie was good it’s cause you think it makes you look smart. Spoiler alert! This movie is for morons.

  3. Mike says:

    Wrong Chris… you either understood it, or you didn’t. Maybe you simply weren’t paying close enough attention? ..or maybe it was over your head?

  4. Jack says:

    Here’s where you lost all credibility with me: “I guess what bothered me the most is the utter ‘importance’ that was placed on every insight revealed along the way.”

    Hello? That’s called following the plot. These insights are placed in there for a reason. I know you would rather have a movie that you don’t have to pay much attention to. Because that’s what story writers aspire to do, give you a movie that you can only half pay attention to skip right over parts. Everyone wants to make a lazy movie so lazy people can watch it.

    I bet you’re kicking you own a*s right now. Maybe because you posted this real early when it came out and that my friend that is not time enough to really immerse yourself in this movie. Everything in this story is so carefully constructed, and every detail is so fine-tuned and done for a reason right down to the timing of the music. I’ve never seen such an artistic masterpiece like this one.

    I never got moved by so much emotion. At the same time with all that emotion, the movie challenges your mind and makes you puzzle through it. Yes, you’re right you’ll never like this movie just paying attention to bits and pieces of it. But at least I gave you the courtesy to read your whole review, and not just bits and pieces of it.

  5. Ernie Mink says:

    This is more than a review, this is FACTS. I actually spoke with the director Richard Kelly. Although, a movie can be seen as left for interpretation, there is truly only one meaning, and that is from the creator, Richard Kelly. So before anyone criticizes good or bad, put away your over-rated ignorance and talk to the director. There were two versions of this movie, and the director’s cut was the way it should be and a movie is only as good or as understood as you let it be. And that is why a 5-star, good movie like this will either be seen as what it is, EXCELLENT AND CONVICTING, or by ignorant critics on who cannot understand this movie at all. Donnie Darko is a triumph for unique, one-of-a-kind beautiful and dark films with good music. I realize the director’s version took one or two songs from the theatrical version that I prefer, but the director’s cut puts the necessary scenes in that really do the movie true justice. Good either way.

  6. eyeresist says:


  7. Mark Bell says:

    Rabble rabble rabble rabble!!!

  8. Don R. Lewis says:

    this review was written after DONNIE DARKO played Sundance in 2001; nearly 10 years ago. It wasn’t the film you see now and all of you griping about the review have probably seen the film 10-20 times. You’ve had several years to think about and grapple with the CONFUSING aspects of the film, Gore did not. I think anyone seeing the film for the first time will be confused and I think this review shows that.

    Plus….Jesus peole…it was WRITTEN ABOUT 10 YEARS AGO?!?

  9. Jake says:
    heres the guy who thinks the film is “over-the-top” so i’m really not all that concerned, more content and not surprised that someone that beefheaded can’t appreciate what is a brilliant film

  10. Sam says:

    Way to miss out on the points of a pretty decent film. Watch all the movies you want but, please, don’t write reviews about them. After reading this, I can’t see how you could possibly watch a movie and find any entertaining or thought provoking. And I don’t think anyone’s going to give a damn about the other reviews you write because of that.

  11. david m says:

    This is one of my favorite movies and it deserves better than 2 stars. Especially since FT gave Blair Witch 4.5 stars. Talk about overrated, that movie is shaky cam nonsense.

  12. Hugo van den Berg says:

    Right on, dude. Profundity for the feeble-minded, this movie is.

  13. Charlie says:

    I agree with Michael Volt. You’re just trying to be different and criticizing something that is generally accepted as popular and interesting.

    Side characters are important and really liven up the film. They offer a diverse look into the problems and shortcoming of our culture. I don’t want a movie that only develops Donnie Darko. I want to know how he relates to others around him, and their inner workings as well.

    Also, you incorrectly restate the plot of the movie. DId you listen to any of the exposition?

    All in all, i greatly enjoyed Donnie Darko. It is a fantastic movie.

  14. Michael Voit says:

    It seems like you’re just criticizing it to criticize it. Not really because there’s anything wrong with it, but because you think if you say a movie is bad then you’ll seem like some kind of sophisticated critic. It’s called Metafiction. It’s a genre. Don’t compare it to David Lynch. Of course Donnie Darko is dwarfed in comparison. That’s like comparing Toy Story to The Godfather. You don’t do it. You compare Toy Story to other animated films and The Godfather to other crime dramas. Comparing Donnie Darko to other Metafictional movies like Charlie Kauffman’s “Being John Malkovich” and David Fincher’s “Fight Club”, you can see that it stands as a decent film that is thought provoking as well as entertaining.

  15. Gavin rae says:

    You call yourself a critic? How the hell can you possibly say that this film is anything but amazing. Yes you watched it and got the plot but the point of this film was not simply to share a story… it was to share a thought process and encourage others to think deeply about the events happening in the movie. I suggest you rewatch this movie and indulge yourself in it as you were supposed to. It’s the type of movie that everytime you watch it you either notice something you didnt before or interpret an action with a completely different mindset. Maybe it isn’t your type of movie, maybe your not into movies that require you to think about them after or even during but at least have the decency to say that and not just say that everyone who enjoys this movie is an idiot because its overrated. I suggest you find a new career path.

  16. Royius-Maximus says:

    Its not even worth explaining to you why but you are missing the point of this film on so many, many levels.

    You are a complete cretin for viewing this film with such a straight edged blinkered view, yes you got the plot right, well done, now try to follow the story!

    Im far from being a teenager btw but if you call urself a critic, maybe u should keep to one genre of film, documentaries by the sound of it.

  17. Mamun says:

    U r a mentally crippled, & without any flexibility of mind enjoy the movie. I’m sure u hated Jim Jamerusch’s Dead Man. Metaphysics isa interst for the chosen few, for sure this movie is ‘not for u’. 1 more thing- comparing with Lynch films is stupid, yhis movie stand for its own standard, Lynch has his own place.

  18. John says:

    Damn u Chris Gore i love u on G4 but u let me down. this movie wasnt perfect but i loved it but meh im a teenager what do u expect

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