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.”