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Film Review: Donnie Darko

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A sci-fi film that is funny? A teen film that makes you think? A love story that shocks? A cult film that questions the nature of the universe? Yes, Donnie Darko is not exactly your typical Hollywood film and does not easily fit into any genre. The film had only a small release in 2001 but grew in popularity on DVD and gained a rather large cult following, which prompted a director’s cut release in 2004. It is director/writer Richard Kelly’s film all the way and is quite a delving into the slightly odd thoughts that must be going through his mind. But that little bit off oddity, along with the obvious passion he has, make this film a must see.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular Donnie, we are drawn into the world of this prodigiously intelligent young high school student in the mid eighties who starts experiencing some rather strange hallucinations, involving a giant bunny rabbit that is heralding the end of the world. Still with us? Good. Well after having found out that the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds from this rather specific and oddly disturbing giant bunny rabbit, we follow Donnie as he navigates his way through suburban America and all the trials that a typical teenager encounters. Only Donnie’s world is not typical at all. Sure he deals with problems at school, teenage love and friction with his family but it all occurs in a rather skewed reality where there is a real feeling of impending doom and more than a touch of supernatural weirdness. To go more into the story would only ruin it as the film is best experienced with an open mind and there is real joy in watching this very original narrative unfold.

Jake Gyllenhaal as the ill-fated Donnie is truly a memorable performance. He manages to capture a mergence of rebellion, teen awkwardness, eccentricity and cult hero, all which seems to be encapsulated in the name, Donnie Darko. Gyllenhaal is joined here by a splendid supporting cast who portray a group of characters that are fascinating in the duality of their normality and strangeness. Holmes Osborne and Mary McDonnell as Donnie’s parents are terrific, both genuinely interesting characters who only add to the audience’s understanding of Donnie. Jena Melone as Donnie’s love interest is both sweet and alluring, while Patrick Swayze steps right out of his comfort zone and into Jim Cunningham, a deluded and sleazy self-help guru with much to hide. Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, Katharine Ross ,Beth Grant and Maggie Gyllenhaal (real life sister to Jake) round out the cast, and look out for a young Seth Rogen.

An interesting blend of science fiction, humour, drama, teen-love and a touch of sadness, all encased in a dream-like surrounding, at first indicate a project perhaps a touch too ambitious for Richard Kelly’s first major film. But you get the sense that this inexperience is a blessing for the film. Donnie Darko is unhindered by any standard Hollywood parameters that have turned so many modern films into regurgitated clones of everything else. Kelly’s powerful script mixed with his directing style full of sentimental nuance, together with the richly acted characters has created a very unique cinematic experience. Donnie Darko is one of those films that transcends the screen and really connects with the viewer on a deep, emotional level, and stays with you long after the credits have faded to black.

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Written by Dale Weber

Monday, 22 September, 2008 at 10:41 pm

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