Published Apr 07, 2011Unlike its namesake, this Daydream Nation has little hope of redefining anything (certainly not American indie rock). While Michael Goldbach's directorial debut may not have any teenage riots, it does have plenty of teenagers. More importantly, it also offers a fresh spin on a well-worn theme, a wealth of gorgeous vistas and a powerhouse starring turn from Kat Dennings.
The story follows displaced urban teenager Caroline Wexler's (Dennings) rocky acclimatization to a small town, including an affair with an alpha-teacher (an initially strong, later farcical Josh Lucas) and an awkward romance with an overmatched, semi-scarred schoolmate, naturally named Thurston (Reece Thompson).
Emotionally damaged, morally ambivalent, quick-witted, well read and sexually confident, Wexler is archetypically layered. Nevertheless, Dennings imbues her with just the right mix of assuredness, confusion, angst and melancholy, creating a compelling, nuanced and entirely believable character.
Throughout, familiar elements abound, like the new-kid-in-town premise (see Lost Boys, Twilight, New Waterford Girl, the Drums' "Let's Go Surfing," etc.), the whip-smart teenager (Juno), the youth-stalking serial killer (Summer of Sam, Scream, etc.) and so on. Regardless, Goldbach's subtle, oft-insightful script, aside from a third-act breakdown, mixes the constituent parts in a novel, ingenuous way.
Wisely, plenty happens on the periphery, like the leisure-suited killer and a perpetual industrial fire, though Goldbach judiciously keeps those threads in the background, emphasizing the insularity of teenage life – mass murderers really don't matter when a post-pubescent romance goes awry.
Likewise, he and his Director of Photography (Jon Joffin) use hazy filters, quiet close-ups and dreamy fades to increase the wistfulness while piling on pretty landscapes, à la David Gordon Green (see All the Real Girls and George Washington). The effect is gorgeous and, as the title suggests, appositely detached.
Incidentally, you can't call a film Daydream Nation without spotlighting the soundtrack. Sonic Youth make requisite appearances, but most of the score – a taster plate of indie rock, including Sebadoh, Beach House, Stars, Metric, and others – aims for ethereality, appropriately upholding the title's dreamy connotation. (eOne)