Sometimes, the cover says everything. Look at the art for 'Daydream Nation.' Go on. You have a mostly young cast, headlined by Kat Dennings, who made the news (coincidentally...ahem) shortly after the film festival debut when a series of nude pictures leaked. There's also a blurb, attributed to Variety, name dropping three fan favorites: 'Juno,' David Lynch, and 'Donnie Darko.' The back of the cover doesn't say all that much, but it does happen to bold the age of the character portrayed by Dennings: seventeen. It's almost as if it's some kind of hint about a theme in the film.
I'd like to take this moment in the budding review of 'Daydream Nation' to point out there are, indeed, parallels to the blurbed director and films, because this film tries to rip off each and every one of them. It's painfully, blatantly obvious that the Canadian film, from first time writer/director Michael Goldbach, doesn't want to stand on its own two legs. It wants to tap into existing audiences more than it wants to be unique or interesting. It wants to be edgy, and tries so damn hard at it that everything else in the film suffers.
Focusing on the new girl at a new school, 'Daydream Nation' quickly lets us know that its target audience is the throngs of high schoolers with their sets of problems, from sexual frustration to drugs and gossip. Its protagonist, Caroline Wexler (Dennings), thinks she's wise beyond her years. She isn't hot for her fellow students, as her English teacher (Josh Lucas) seems more up her alley, but due to the way students talk and notice things, she also dabbles with the emotionally distraught Thurston (Reece Thompson), a cover of sorts. The forbidden tryst, combined with rumors and a serial killer on the loose, make Caroline's time at Hargrove High School a learning experience, for all the wrong reasons.
The lifted elements of this film are too obvious, too in-your-face to miss. From the onscreen text scribbles for transitional moments in the narrative (rather than the changing of seasons), to the constant obsession of numerous characters asking, verbatim, what will the end of the world look like, it's hard to really get into this film. It's too scatterbrained for its own good, tapping into polar opposite thematic elements that refuse to mesh and exist in the same story. Throw in a serial killer for no reason whatsoever, and you have a film that is much like 'Eragon,' in that it is so heavily influenced by its peers that it doesn't understand the concept of being its own story, its own experience.
The characters are completely realistic, then, at the same time, unreachable. Caroline, lord bless her, is quite promiscuous, and aside from not having a mother figure in her life, we don't find out why, really. Sexual liberation I guess is all we can chalk it up to, or her desire to connect to people in her limited time places due to her father's somewhat nomadic lifestyle over recent years. We get plenty of rationalization from Caroline, particularly when she's mocking a prudish character played by Katie Boland, but it's also here where we hear the lines Caroline has convinced herself of, her waxing philosophical, that get repeated over and over by her, as if she has no other explanation other than to try to belittle others to build herself up. Thurston is much more layered, due to his own personal misadventures that have scarred his life, but his family life is completely impossible to relate to. Dude pops his cherry (figuratively), and says as much, to his mother (Andie MacDowell), right when he gets home? Who does that?! The overly self-aware film's adult lead, Lucas' teacher character, well, he's hardly relatable. He's so far from it that he may as well be a cartoon, although as the film progresses his personality changes at the drop of a hat make him as much.
Dialogue is pretentious, at best, trying to be smart and hip, and failing at nearly every turn. The various subplots and themes of the film are facepalm-ingly insane and incoherent. The entire experience feels like a pandering mess, trying to appease teenage markets, wanting to be one of the defining films of a generation, one that tries to capture the zeitgeist of the era for the age group. It fails. 'Daydream Nation' is a mess. The direction and storytelling capabilities are just slightly above amateurish, the characters over-idealized. There are no hidden messages, nothing that would make the film more enjoyable or fulfilling upon repeat viewings. It's just knockoff goods. And don't even get me started on the fact that students wear gas masks due to an alluded to toxic issue!
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Daydream Nation' is debuting in America just two weeks before the Blu-ray bow of the film from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The disc is a Region A BD25, with no packaging frills, other than a cut-out eco-case. There are two pre-menu trailers, for 'happythankyoumoreplease' and 'Kill the Irishman.'
'Daydream Nation' and its AVC MPEG-4 1.78:1 framed 1080p encode are very hit or miss, with an aesthetic that is bipolar and somewhat disturbed, to put it politely.
Contrast levels seem ridiculously boosted, and the amount of bleed on exposed flesh can be absolutely ridiculous, while other objects have a peculiar glow to them that is distracting, to say the least. Skin tones go from normal and nice to exaggeratedly hot at a moment's notice, in night or day, interior or exterior shots. Textures are here one minute, gone the next, and the same can be said about detail, though it's never as dramatic or eye catching.
The sad thing is, this disc has some moments where it's astoundingly beautiful and sharp, so the random barrage of errors, intentional or not, can be a tad bit disappointing. Fitting, really, considering the film.
Color me unimpressed with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track given to 'Daydream Nation.' The entire audio experience just feels flat.
Volume never spikes, range feels slightly inhibited, rear utilization is soft and less than enveloping, and there's nary a sequence in the film that stands out as being something special. Dialogue isn't too bad, but the Dennings narration in some scenes gets easily overpowered as her voice is far from dominant, and its softness is beaten by even light soundtrack elements. Bass activity isn't found in the early parts of the film, but it does pick up as the film goes along...though it's never anything worth praising.
Passable, but barely.
'Daydream Nation' is a film that's tough to catalog, or even describe. It's just too all over the place to nail it down to any specific theme or idea. The tale of forbidden lust, fear, and coming of age for these high school students is far from believable, and attempts to be far more than what it is. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray isn't bad, but it's hardly demo material, either. Curious parties would be best served by renting this one first. It won't hurt, and titles of this ilk are usually found on sale at Best Buy for cheap within six weeks of release, anyways. If you insist on buying it, be sure you do so at a bargain price to help minimize the risk.