Donnie Darko–Before You See It

                                                                                                                                            5:57 p.m.      6/5/04

Donnie Darko. What can I say about it? It was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I highly value. He is most likely the smartest person I know, and that’s saying a lot. He owns a copy of this movie and thought that I would enjoy it. It was with great anticipation that I fired up this DVD. Sadly to say, the enthusiasm was grievously misplaced.

From the first shot of the movie, I know I’m in trouble. There is the moody music and the moody kids and everything is just so moody. Now, those of you who read my review for Charlotte Sometimes will be understandably confused as that movie is all mood. What is the difference, you ask? Well, I’ll explain to you the difference. Watching Donnie Darko, I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be impressed with the movie. Impressed or shocked. There is a sense of ‘look at me’ and ‘see how clever I am’. This is a movie that chokes on its own importance from the heavy-handed score to the slowing down of action in that now-irritating Matrix fashion.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie) may very well be a good actor, but I can’t tell that from this movie. He has basically two expressions. The sly, smirking ‘I know something you don’t know’ look and that panic-filled one. Oh, there is also the rage-distorting look, but that is similar to the second one except louder. He is a kid who may or may not be having a psychic breakdown encountering the usual teenage angst. There is the annoying sister who loves to goad her big brother (Elizabeth, played by Jake Gyllenhaal’s real-life sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the other little sister who doesn’t do much more than sit around and look adorable. The parents are generic and instantly forgettable, which is a shame, especially in the case of the mother played by Mary McDonnell.

Once again, I find myself watching the clock as the movie limps forward. This is a case where the music is a detriment to the movie-I hate the single from this movie-and I wish there is a way I can mute the music while watching the movie. The portentous nature of it is grating, and I just want to scream, ‘I get it! Something really big is
happening here!’ I am gritting my teeth as I watch the movie, which is not a good sign.

Now, part of the problem is that I’m approximately twenty years too old to fully appreciate this movie, but I wouldn’t have liked it back when I was a teenager. Not just because I dislike movies for the most part, but because this movie is filled with pseudo-characters who don’t even act like teens act, especially in the eighties. Speaking of the eighties, I have no idea why this movie is set in the eighties, but it feels more like it belongs in the fifties. The dialogue is stiff and completely unbelievable. When Donnie asks the girl to go with him, I am surprised. It’s such a quaint term that I don’t even believe this kid would know the phrase let alone use it. A friend of mine suggests it is set in the eighties because that was the beginning of teenage angst films such as The Breakfast Club. I guess Donnie Darko is supposed to be John Hughes on crack.

An hour into the movie, I check to see how long it is. Over two hours long. I groan. We’ve had the requisite crazy old lady who might not be so crazy, the English teacher who means well but is a screw-up, and we have the incompetent therapist who would be banned from the APA in real life. It is the last character who puts the final kibosh on the movie for me. I am tired of portrayals of incompetent therapists, especially where they are there merely so plot points can be mentioned. She is so clearly a device to keep the film limping along that it’s insulting. When the parents come into the office to find out what’s going and the therapist starts to summarize what is wrong with Donnie, it sets my teeth on edge. When she reveals things that have been said in the office, I switch off the movie. It no longer holds any validity to me, and I’m pissed off to boot.

I don’t care what happens to these characters; I don’t care if the world is going to end; in fact, I’m rooting for the end of the world if only so that this damn movie will mercifully be over. None of the characters are sympathetic in any way, except for Donnie to the slightest extent, and I’m mad that I wasted even an hour of my life on it. Oh, I know, I’m in the minority on this movie. I see the ratings on and which indicate that I am off my rocker. I know that it’s a cult classic revered by adolescents in angst everywhere. So be it. Patrick Swayze already did a movie on the angst of isolated adolescents. It’s called The Outsiders, and it’s a superior movie to this one. This one has no place on the Netflix Queue, other than the trash can.

Follow up: a friend of mine told me Donnie dies in the end. If I had known that, I would have…still not watched the rest of it, but at least I would have been happy.

4 Responses to Donnie Darko–Before You See It

  1. Love you, but disagree with you on this one… I really like this film; it is all about the disconnect.

  2. Yeah, well, maybe if I had seen it when I was a teen, I might have liked it. it was way too self-conscious a movie for me. Maybe it’s a class thing, too, but I just could not relate.

  3. I watched the second half of this movie in the middle of the night on TV in Iceland. I think it may have been dubbed into German with English subtitles.

    It was moody, atmospheric as all hell, and more than a little hard to understand. I thought this was because of the German dubbing and the missing the first 45 minutes….

    So when I got home, I rented it and watched the whole thing… which amazingly, was even more confusing. Still love the tone and arena, but not much else. Still, it’s a million times better than SOUTHLAND TALES, which I dare anyone to make sense of…

  4. Hi, Alex. Good to see you. I didn’t find it confusing–just irritating as hell. Really–you dare me to watch a movie? Let me go to and look it up. Hm. Looks intriguing. I may have to take you up on your dare. Come back often.