David St. James
Trivia Jake Gyllenhaal (whose sister had a lot of fun in The Secretary) will be on the big screen again soon with The Day After Tomorrow and is rumoured to have signed to play the lead in Kevin Smith's The Green Hornet
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Donnie Darko (2001)
5th Apr 04
Donnie Darko is a typically alienated and mixed up American teenage boy at the tail end of the similarly mixed up eighties. His life is strange; school is ramming one idea down this throat, his friends have other ideas and his parents have others still. They aren’t a bad lot, his folks, and are quite supportive, although not as much as his estranged shrink (played by Katherine Ross of Cagney and Lacey fame).
In fact, the therapist is the only one who knows about the existence of his imaginary six foot tall rabbit friend Frank. Frank is bad news and keeps telling Donnie that the world’s is going to end next week on Halloween. Frank also tells Donnie to do things, some good (like to get out of the house when the engine of a Boeing 747 crashes onto his bedroom) and some bad (like heading upstairs and stealing Dad’s gun from the cardboard box in the cupboard). Donnie’s struggling to make sense of all this, and his only solace comes in the form of a new girl in town, Gretchen (touchingly played by Jena Malone). As the film slowly heads towards the deadly Halloween date, Gretchen and Donnie become more and more inseparable, while Donnie simultaneously starts to loose his grip on his own reality and the people around him generally start to panic.
The eighties back drop for this movie is really convincing. It was set in ’88 when, ironically, I was Donnie’s age, and I remember it well. Growing up is always hard and even though Donnie is clearly a few cards short of a deck, you really sympathize with him. The misguided infomercials with the brilliant cameo by Patrick Swayze as the sleazy evangelist are unforgettable, as is his single minded and very stubborn school teacher (who’s really hooked on the love-fear thing, even when it hilariously all turns sour for them).
It’s actually quite hard to talk about this film without giving too much away. You know how most films can be described as a combination of other movies (‘It’s like Aliens, but underwater’, ‘It’s like Speed but in a submarine’, whatever)? Well, Donnie Darko would I suppose be Pump up the Volume mixed with Blue Velvet and Jacob’s Ladder, with a touch of the special effects from The Abyss thrown in, and that’s before you mention the whole time travel subplot. Yes, time travel. Bizarre, eh?
Donnie Darko is exactly that. Bizarre, brilliant, frightening, enlightening, puzzling, hilarious, you name an emotion and you’ll probably feel it at some point while watching this film. Richard Kelly has to be congratulated for a totally compelling and brilliantly shot debut feature, and Jake Gyllenhaal shines as Donnie. Go out and see this film as soon as you can, but be ready, Kelly throws everything but the kitchen sink at you.
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