Donnie Darko (Directed by Richard Kelly) – Expectations from Reviews
Before watching Donnie Darko (a film that I have never watched before on account of everyone I know having already watched it) I read three reviews. The first was by Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/oct/25/artsfeatures2) written in October 2002. From this review I gathered that the film would be in the tradition of other ‘adolescent angst in leafy suburbia’ movies. He praised the film’s originality but also commented that it was also somewhat flawed, as it was not entirely coherent. The second review I read was by Elvis Mitchell for The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C07E1DB1331F935A15753C1A9679C8B63) written in October 2001. He commented that it echoed John Hughes’ works (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club…), but was darker…and not quite as good. He summarised that is a film that aims high but falls slightly short of the mark. Anthony Quinn writing years later than the film’s original release in February 2009 (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/first-impressions-donnie-darko-2002-1607703.html) for The Independent similarly states that it is an ‘oddball’ movie that is recognisable as the work of a first time filmmaker. After reading these reviews my expectations were lower that they were after having heard about the film from friends. I was anticipating a slightly disappointing and confusing film.
After watching the film I felt that the reviews were slightly unfair. Yes, the film was ambitious but it was also emotionally complex. The character of Donnie could have easily become a cliché but Jake Gyllenhaal is a compelling actor who was able to prevent him becoming irritating. Another standout performance was by Patrick Swayze as the sinister Jim Cunningham – self-help guru, bullshit merchant and paedophile. I found the film to be cinematographically interesting and evocative. The soundtrack also fitted the mood and tone of the movie (although I do find Gary Jules’ rendition of ‘Mad World’ slightly maudlin). The psychological thriller aspect of the film I can see is slightly flawed. The question of who Frank is was answered by the end, as was where the aeroplane engine came from. However, the relevance and story behind Grandma Death I felt was somewhat abandoned by Kelly. I realise that many psychological thrillers are left on a certain note of mystery but this part of the plot was just left hanging slightly limp. Having said that, the fact that I was left thinking and mulling over the film after I had watched it shows to me that it is a decent film. I enjoyed it, and although I do agree with the critics that it had its flaws, I nevertheless found it to be engaging and moving.