Tuesday, July 5, 2011

REVIEW: Donnie Darko (2001)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing some thinking on how to make this blog more interesting. And one of the things that came to me was that I have been reviewing the same types of movies for a while now – mostly cheaply made, somewhat underground horror movies that not a lot of people have seen. So this month I’m changing it up and starting off with a very different kind of bad movie that I really think people need to take a closer look at. This is a movie that had a real budget and seems to be under the delusion that it is somehow ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ in some fashion. And that’s why I’m here! So join me if you would, as I take my journey through…Donnie Darko.

Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: The Gyllenhaal Clan, A Giant Demonic Bunny
Or If You Really Want a Laugh...: www.donniedarkofilm.com

This movie throws a lot of gibberish at you, but really I’ll just spell it out for you right now what this movie is really about: A kid with severe mental problems with voices telling him to burn down houses and flood public buildings. You have seen this story before in real life several times – in tabloid newspapers, when some guy does something crazy and blames it on nonsensical fairy-tale crap. “Boy kills neighbor’s dog and claims that voices made him do it.” That’s pretty much this whole movie in a nutshell. With that said, let the complaining begin!

Our first scene involves Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko, waking up on the side of the road early in the morning, not knowing where he is, and that’s always a great way to start a morning…he goes home to his family, where they have dinner and we see that his sister is played by his real life sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Who frankly is above this movie and I don’t know what she’s doing here. She says how she’s going to be voting in the upcoming election for her politician father’s opponent, just to piss him off, because she’s an annoying teenager. Then she and Donnie start calling each other such sweet and affectionate nicknames as ‘fuck-ass.’ Isn’t it nice when a movie goes to such great lengths to make sure you like the characters? Oh wait…

They're a good family...

And I take back what I said about Maggie Gyllenhaal being above this movie.

Donnie then hears more voices in his head later that night telling him to go and sleep on a golf course. Oh, and also that the world will end in 28 days…that’s kind of important too. He’s woken up by Patrick Swayze and another guy, who think it’s a good idea to make fun of him, because everyone in this movie is an asshole. Then he goes back home to find out that a plane engine fell on his house the previous night. I hate when that happens, too. Then they all get a hotel room to stay in while their house is cleaned up. At the bus stop, Donnie’s friends make fun of a random Chinese girl, further proving what A-class human beings they are, and then in class, the teacher tells the new girl to sit next to whichever boy in class she thinks is the best looking. Because…THAT’S not weird and awkward for a new kid, right?

Can't someone just run him over with a golf cart and end this movie prematurely? Hey, I can dream...

Donnie and his dad are driving home one day when his dad almost hits an old lady in the road. Frankly I thought Pumpkinhead 2 had a much superior ‘old lady walking in the middle of the road’ scene…but yes, this is Grandma Death, who walks around aimlessly all day in the middle of the road checking her mail. Will she ever get any? Truly the most gripping part of the movie!

"Maybe my subscription to Hair Magazine Monthly will finally get here..."

We see that Donnie actually sees a giant, ugly talking rabbit-demon creature named Frank, who was the voice all along telling him this stuff. Yes, I’m dead serious, and no, I wasn’t doing any intoxicating substances when writing this review…anyway, Frank tells him to go flood his school and put an ax in the head of their, uh, ugly dog-faced man mascot statue thingy (???). Donnie is such a normal boy…there’s nothing weird about him at all. In fact, I believe many serial killers started out the exact same way.

Donnie in about 40 years.

The next day, Donnie finds the new girl, Gretchen, getting bullied by two morons, and walks home with her to protect her. She tells him the best thing to tell any boy you just meet, that her father stabbed her mother four times in the chest. But it’s fine, because Donnie one-ups her and says that he burned down a school. Being that he’s completely insane, she finds it attractive – I guess it runs in the family. He even gets her to be his girlfriend right away, because if someone ever told me they burnt down a building and had mental problems, I’d be jumping to get into a relationship too.

"Hey, I'm quirky!"
"I'm quirky too and I find your quirkiness attractive!"
"Let's be boyfriend and girlfriend...awkwardly!"
...or "Every Indie Film Ever Made."

You know, I think I just figured out the main problem with Richard Kelly’s writing. Just like in The Box, another godawfully pretentious pile of slop which he was behind, he substitutes memorable situations and interesting characters for unpleasantness and weird, gross-out scenarios. He almost gets a reasonable level of suspense, but it’s hard to be invested when he keeps on putting such dark, grotesque imagery and themes in his movies. And don’t get me wrong, I like dark and grotesque as much as anyone, but you have to have a point behind it! It should be scary, or underline some kind of message, or even just tell a good character-driven story. There should be some kind of structure to it, which you do not get here. This is a film that is pretty much just dark, and nothing else. It’s just unpleasant, weird scene after unpleasant, weird scene without any coherence, like a movie written by that kid who always sat in the back of the class with stringy hair covering his eyes, breathing raggedly down your neck and drawing pictures of naked women rubbing their breasts. Did you like that kid at all?

So Donnie gets some more garbage from the ugly talking rabbit about the end of the world. He blathers to his psychiatrist, who hypnotizes him, and then he talks about how much he thinks about sex all day at school, before starting to jerk off under the hypnosis…glad that scene was in the movie. At least she wakes him up before he gets too far. Then we get a scene of him sitting with his friends in the middle of a big field talking about whether or not the Smurfs rape the one female one in their whole clan. Donnie says they don’t have genitalia anyway, so it’s a moot point.

…God, EVERY SCENE there’s something that pisses me off. EVERY SINGLE SCENE! It’s seriously amazing. But it’s OK, because it’s so quirky that all the pretentious indie kids can laugh at just how quirky it is! How I hate such “quirkiness.” It’s incredibly self indulgent and smacks of an upturned nose and the pretension that only rich, preppy white morons would find interesting.

So if that wasn’t enough to make you want to violently strangle everyone involved with this, we also get introduced to the idea of time travel in this movie. Yes, time travel; because this movie didn’t rip off your faux-intellectual ideals from 10th grade enough. Ugh. I’d elaborate on this but really none of it makes sense or has anything even remotely meaningful about it, so all I can tell you is that he finds out that Grandma Death, the old lady eternally waiting for her mail, once wrote a book about it. So he reads it and finds out that it has to do with the voices he’s been hearing. This is all very exciting, but personally I just want to know if she got her mail or not.

A riveting mystery!

We also get some really RADICAL FAR-OUT scenes of Donnie REBELLING AGAINST AUTHORITY, MAN, because he’s on the edge of society; a rebel who thinks for himself and doesn’t follow the crowd. And other dumb clichés spouted by people who are, ironically, following a crowd in and of itself by claiming that they do not follow a crowd.

There’s this one character who’s pretty much the stereotypical Christian soccer mom, complete with calling for books to be banned during PTA meetings that have otherwise nothing to do with that. In her class, she makes the kids constantly watch self-help videos from Patrick Swayze’s character, who apparently is some kind of local celebrity, or something. I don’t know. One day in class she makes all the kids place these situational card things on either side of the ‘human emotional spectrum’ – fear and love. Donnie stands up and gives a big old sermon about how human emotions are more complicated than that. Because he’s so deep. Then at this big public sermon where Patrick Swayze pretty much just spews out faux-inspirational, self empowering, politically correct crap, Donnie gets up again and makes a big speech about how wrong everything Swayze says is.

"Hi, my name is annoying vaguely religious soccer mom character, how can I irritate the hell out of you today?"

Uh, seriously movie? Big whoop, he exposed the hypocrisy of the school system. Are we supposed to be impressed?

So then he and his girlfriend walk around in the forest and talk about how beautiful the world is, American Beauty style, except without the charm and stronger, snappy writing that movie had. She says she doesn’t want to kiss him until the world feels right, or some other hippie-inspired nonsense, and also “because there’s a fat guy over there watching us,” which there is. Ahahaha…wait, no, that was even less funny than the dialogue in Juno. Which I have to admit is an accomplishment.

Then Donnie and Gretchen go to see Evil Dead in theaters, and there’s nobody else in the theater, because being in a bad movie has apparently ruined everyones’ taste. I’d really like to watch Evil Dead right now, but the movie ruins it by having Frank the demented crack-fantasy rabbit come in during it and talk about some more vague, mystical junk that means nothing. He takes off his mask and we see that he has a terrible bloody wound on his eye. Why is this important? The answer is, it isn’t! But then nothing in this movie really is, anyway, so it’s a moot point to criticize this specific part.

Sittin' in the theater with a giant demonic bunny...nothing weird about that! Heck, last week I had dinner with a three eyed mutant giraffe!

Oh yeah, but Frank told him to go burn down Patrick Swayze’s house! Which he does. And then he cries to his therapist about it, but then it’s revealed the next day that he had child porn and is now arrested. And I still don’t care. Seriously, this whole plotline is so played out. Public official is full of hot air and gets exposed for the liar and hypocrite that he is. Snore. I’d say the world is better off without him polluting young kids’ minds, but really when the rest of the characters in this movie are allowed to spout their fluffy hippie-liberal “I love everyone and the world is so beautiful and artistic” garbage freely, I don’t think the world is really any better at all. These are not characters with depth or human qualities; they are various ideologies and psychological stereotypes with names slapped on.

The Christian soccer-mom book-banning witch isn’t impressed with Donnie’s mom’s lack of devotion to her daughter’s dance team thing, because oh no, she’s a stupid and annoying character, so she guilt-trips Donnie’s mom into chaperoning their field trip. Donnie and his sister have a big Halloween party, when Donnie realizes the world is supposed to end tonight. So he and Gretchen and some of his friends go to the abandoned house of Grandma Death, where they find the bullies waiting there for no reason. The bullies attack them, and Gretchen gets hit by a car even though she could have easily avoided it…and then the movie ends with a big time loop that sets everything back to the beginning of the movie all over again, except this time Donnie actually died when the engine fell through the roof. Oh wow, a time paradox?! I haven’t been this surprised since I found out fast food wasn’t good for you! Truly the minds behind this movie are FAAAAR beyond my puny comprehension to come up with something THIS intellectual! Yeah, it’s stupid and pretentious. But at least the movie’s over.

This movie had some interesting concepts and the directing itself wasn’t bad at all, but the way its themes and motifs were executed was just all wrong. This movie is incredibly preachy and condescending, which is ironic considering how much it rails against that kind of collectivist sheep-mentality. It’s built on the premise that this kid, Donnie, is debunking all the hypocritical and overly simplified thinking that the public school forces on everyone, but then the way it shoves Donnie’s free-thinking, liberal ideas down your throat CONSTANTLY, IN EVERY SINGLE SCENE, is just so annoying that it makes me want to reach through the screen and smack everyone.

Not to mention the plot is ridiculously overcomplicated, the characters are all unlikable jerks, that stupid rabbit thing is just ugly as hell and the whole thing is specifically tailored to make young kids who don’t know any better feel smarter. This is not a good film, and I’m sorry this review hasn’t been as funny as some of my other ones, but really, what kinds of jokes am I supposed to make when every scene just has so many fundamental things wrong with it from a writing and ideological standpoint? There might not be any gaping plot holes or silly acting here, but don’t let that fool you: Donnie Darko is putrid, sappy, hipster crap and you shouldn’t ever watch it. Go, quickly! Run away!