Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow), Zach Gilford (TV's Friday Night Lights) and Ashley Springer (Teeth) head up a stellar cast including Ana Gasteyer (Mean Girls), Rooney Mara (A Nightmare on Elm Street), comedienne Sandra Bernhard (TV's Roseanne) and Alan Cumming (X2: X-Men United) in this captivating story of high school seniors at the crossroads of their adult lives.
When a pompous actor tells good girl Alexa (Rossum) that she hasn't lived, she embarks on a bold journey that takes her to mysterious bad boy Johnny (Gilford). Envious, her shy best friend Ben (Springer) also dares to pursue Johnny, complicating Alexa's romance and pushing the boundaries among the three friends.
After slogging through teen comedy dreck like 'Miss March,' and 'I Love You, Beth Cooper,' it was nice to see a film that didn't treat teenagers like empty voids of built up sexual frustration. Instead 'Dare' treats teenagers like intricate organisms with feelings and emotions.
I first saw 'Dare' at the 2009 Sundance film festival, and at that time I liked it, but something about it didn't attract me right away. It took this second viewing of the film, after I had viewed 'Miss March,' and 'I Love You, Beth Cooper,' to realize exactly how good 'Dare' is. Too many times in our high school comedy films, we're presented with a group of over-sexed teenagers with nothing on their airy minds but drugs, alcohol, and boobs. After sitting through so many such films, one begins to wonder if kids actually have complex thoughts.
'Dare' is the story of three students: Johnny, Alexa, and Ben. Divided into three segments, 'Dare' gives us a glimpse at each kid's life through their point of view. Alexa is the smart, pretty girl who hasn't ever been with a guy. Ben is the sexually confused adolescent who isn't sure which team he's batting for. And Johnny is the rich kid that has everything, but at the same time has nothing.
The film's tagline says "Do something you're afraid of." Indeed these kids do have fears, and each one of them faces them head on. Alexa wants to become an actress, but she stinks. After a rough acting lesson by one of her idols, she decides that she isn't going to be the goodie goodie girl anymore. Ben is fighting with feelings that he may or may not be gay. Afraid of what it might bring, Ben still dives into a world that scares him, but he knows for him it's right. Johnny may be the most interesting one of the bunch. While I think that many films out there use the rich kid syndrome – you know, when the kid has tons of money, but just has no love – too much, I think 'Dare' balances it very well. The movie doesn't shove the fact that Johnny has no real support system down our throats; instead it lets us wonder what he's really thinking and feeling.
Each of the three characters becomes romantically involved with one another. Any other teen romp would have treated this love triangle as a sexually charged threesome to titillate viewers, but not 'Dare.' This isn't the threesome you're used to seeing. It will make you feel uncomfortable. You will feel embarrassed for the characters, but you'll still understand why they're doing what they're doing.
Our teenage years are a confusing time, and all too often do we dumb down those years with movies operating at the intellectual level of wet cardboard. 'Dare' gives us a rare peek into the confusing, and sometimes terrifying world of teenagers. Emmy Rossum, as Alexa, is one of the film's highlights. Besides being a dead-ringer for a young Angelina Jolie, Rossum gives a performance that's both reserved and provocative. Zach Gilford, as Johnny, is probably the best actor of the bunch. His range is certainly tested here.
'Dare' takes the tricky, and sensitive subject of teen sexuality and treats it maturely. There are no titillating hijinks -– loud parties, topless girls, two girls kissing –- instead there's a real story here with real characters who really feel something.
I preface this section with this statement: When I saw this film at Sundance, in a theater that holds over 1,600 people, sitting a few rows away from the gigantic screen, this movie did not EVER look this bad.
The 1080p/AVC- encoded transfer, in all seriousness, might as well be a DVD. It's a real shame too, but man does this transfer just look atrocious. There's not many things that are done well here. Sure 'Dare' was shot on a budget that equals next to nothing, but like I said I saw it on the big screen and it didn't look like this.
I won't even talk about fine detail, because there's none to be had. A thick layer of sometimes frozen grain, washes over the picture creating blurry edges, and washed out faces. Contrast is all over the place. There's a time, during Alexa's acting lesson, where Emmy Rossum's face is completely lost against the white wall in the background. Dark scenes are dismal. Revealing delineation is non-existent. Colors are bland, and faded. Nothing ever appears like it should in high definition. As for technical anomalies, there are a couple. I caught some aliasing, pixilation of colors, and around the 44:58 minute mark there's a technical glitch where short horizontal lines appear around the edges of Ben and Johnny's profiles. It appears for a split second but is very noticeable and very ugly.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack fares better than the video, but still that's not saying much. Voices are quite muted in this dialogue-centric feature. I finally just had to turn up the volume on my center channel to understand every word and whisper. Even though the soundtrack is peppered with hip-hop songs, LFE is very scarce, and when engaged is extremely underwhelming. Surrounds? What surrounds? There's nothing there of consequence, and when a sound or two bleeds out from the surround channels it sounds forced and unnatural. Again, seeing this film on the big screen, it did not sound this bad either.
In a world of lazy high school dramas, where kids are nothing more than lifeless blobs of sexual stupidity, 'Dare' dares to tell a story about teenagers with a little substance. It isn't perfect by any means, but it's a nice departure from the same old stuff Hollywood keeps throwing at us. I would recommend the film to anyone, but sadly I can't recommend this particular Blu-ray. It's a sub-standard presentation by anyone's HD standards. The pictures is soft, rough, and ugly. The sound is canned and hushed. It's a very disappointing release for a film that deserved better.