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Daddio (A Movie Review)

DADDIO (2023)

Starring Dakota Johnson, Sean Penn, Marcos A. Gonzalez and Shannon Gannon.

Screenplay by Christy Hall.

Directed by Christy Hall.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 101 minutes. Rated R.

There are two ways to react to writer/director Christy Hall’s debut film Daddio. After all, with just a few extremely short divergences, it is over an hour and a half stuck in a cab eavesdropping on a conversation between two strangers – the cabbie and his fare – which progresses from small talk to an almost competitive airing of secrets.

Some people will be uncomfortable or even bored, noticing the lack of any sort of drama other than through dialogue. The closest thing to a typical movie action point, an automobile accident, does happen, but it is discreetly off camera and the audience only briefly sees the aftermath.

Others will be wrapped up in the conversation, ranging from trivial to vital, and learning more about these two people who we might never meet – or at least have any significant interaction with – in real life.

Personally, I am firmly in the second camp. Of course, I have always loved talky films (the Before Sunset series are three of my favorite movies of all time), so the dialogue-heavy script and the claustrophobic situation does appeal to me.

After all, probably at least 95% of Daddio takes place inside of a single cab, and other than a few outsiders who extremely briefly intrude on the story – the guy who flags down the cab at the airport, a little girl sitting in the back seat of a neighboring car in a traffic jam, and mostly the passenger’s married lover who only appears in a series of text messages – this film is focused completely on the two characters.

In college, a writing professor of mine said that the most difficult stories to tell are when you take two people and lock them in a room or someplace intimate together. After all, in that kind of set up, there is no deflection, no distraction, nowhere else to look. They are forced to interact, or you simply have no story.

The two characters are the epitome of meeting by fate. He is Clark (Sean Penn), a cab driver who picks up a fare at JFK Airport to drive into New York City. She is his passenger, a woman (Dakota Johnson) – we are never told her character’s name – who seems to be a smart and with-it New Yorker with everything in her together, however it turns out (as happens in life) that she is a lot more conflicted than you’d expect at first glance.

That is pretty much it as far as plot. They share over an hour in the cab together, braving traffic and outright delays (caused by the aforementioned car crash) and they talk to pass the time. The conversation is at times insignificant, at times vaguely flirtatious (although, thankfully, they do not have the cabbie actually hit on his much younger fare), at times searingly personal.

They talk about family, relationships, life in New York, sexual mores and gender politics. Knowing they will never see each other again; they get into an unofficial competition in which they try to outdo each other by letting on more intimate personal information to the other.

He seems to think because he has been driving a taxi for decades that he has become an expert in human behavior. While to an extent that is true, in other ways he’s a bit of blowhard and sometimes vaguely sexist. He likes the fact that unlike many fares, she will look at him (through the rear-view mirror) and doesn’t obsess on her phone. They start to talk about their lives – on a surface level at first and then more deeply.

He picks up early that she is having an affair with an older married man. (Who, the cabbie doesn’t realize, is regularly texting her trying to set up a hook up.) This allows him to pontificate about relationships and sexual roles. She gets him to open up about his ex-wives, flirting slightly (because it comes naturally to her), but not actually looking to advance their relationship, to which he agrees despite the occasional inappropriate remark.

This kind of thing can only work if you have two things – strong writing and terrific acting. Sean Penn was long ago considered to be one of the best actors of his generation, but this reputation has been tainted by too many poor film choices in recent years. Daddio is arguably Penn’s best performance since his 2008 best-actor winning turn in Milk. He is terrific, even when he is sharing some of Clark’s more unlikable aspects (maybe even specifically during those times).

Even more surprising is the fact that Johnson – who has built up a decent enough career in the past decade or so since she debuted in Fifty Shades of Grey but has never been totally singled out for her acting skills – keeps up with Penn completely. Her character is mysterious, intriguing and eventually shockingly open with her hopes, dreams and disappointments.

Daddio is a small, intimate film that is much more likely to catch a cult following than to capture any sort of blockbuster success. However, there is a place in the world for stories like this, and if you are intrigued by human nature, there is a lot to love here.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: June 28, 2024.


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