★★★ / ★★★★
Alexa (Emmy Rossum) is a good girl who gets perfect grades and is passionate about acting but her high school peers consider her as a total loser. Ben (Ashley Springer), Alexa’s best friend, has not yet come out of the closet despite his accepting psychiatrist parents (Ana Gasteyer, Wayne Pyle). And Johnny (Zach Gilford) is a popular rich kid who puts on a tough persona but he’s really a sensitive soul. Written by David Brind and directed by Adam Salky, I thought “Dare” was going to be another typical indie film about high school teenagers “finding themselves” but it surprised me because my loyalty toward certain characters had a 180-degree turn halfway through the picture. I had this idea that Alexa and Ben were the so-called good guys and Johnny had no redeeming quality about him. After all, he projected this image that he didn’t care about anything or anyone. It turned out that, due to the varying turn of events sparked by a successful stage actor (Alan Cumming), the two best friends were the parasites and the rich kid was arguably the victim. The film was divided into three chapters that focused on each of the main character so the audiences got a chance to observe the characters’ lives from differing perspectives. While I thought Rossum was the best actor of the three, I was glad that her chapter was first because it wasn’t as well-written as the other two. It wasn’t that her chapter lacked dimension but it wasn’t as dark (though it did try) as the other two. From there, the film gathered momentum as we got to observe Ben’s desperation get the best of him (or the worst of him) and onto the climax of the film when Johnny had a session with his psychiatrist (Sandra Bernhard). I thought that scene was particularly special because it wasn’t just a patient talking to his psychiatrist and the psychiatrist going “uh-huh… uh-huh.” There was a real sense of tension there because they were not afraid to disagree and argue with each other. But at the same time one could get this feeling that Bernhard’s character really did care for Johnny and that tension came from her genuine concern about her patient’s self-denial. Johnny’s loneliness was the most powerful and convincing part of this film; I was fascinated because he was frequently torn by two extreme forces–Ben and Alexa–who he considered his friends. “Dare” is far from a perfect film because there were still elements of typical high school drama that lingered. I wanted to see more focus found in the second half instead of characters trying to figure out where they belonged in the social hierarchy. It was edgy in its own way and it delivered in the most unsuspecting ways.