Daydream Nation (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Caroline (Kat Dennings) and her father (Ted Whittall) moved from the city to the middle-of-nowhere suburbs and Caroline was far from happy about it. In order to feel some sort of excitement, she began to flirt with her English teacher, Barry (Josh Lucas), and the two began to share a sexual relationship. Thurston (Reece Thompson), a good kid with a nice family (led by Andie MacDowell as his mother) but stupid enough to hang around stoners, was hopelessly in love with Caroline. With a serial killer roaming the streets and dangerous chemicals began to take over the sleepy suburbs, Caroline had to choose which guy was right for her. Written and directed by Michael Goldbach, “Daydream Nation” tried to be edgy in tackling teenage angst but everything about it felt forced. For a supposedly smart character (she was in the gifted program), Caroline made decisions that no normal teenager would possibly make. Experimenting with sex and drugs was one thing but having an illicit affair with a teacher was a completely different breed of stupidity. She was the one who made the first move. The teacher, already a bit messed up in the head, obliged. Both of them were wrong. I understood Caroline wanted to feel some sort of excitement but couldn’t she have gone bungee jumping or skydiving instead? She was completely unlikable. Caroline reminded me of those girls in high school so desperate to be different that they were willing to hurt others for the sake of entertaining their delusions. She craved attention and she would go in whichever direction that offered her a bigger spotlight. The symbolisms were heavy-handed. For instance, a factory nearby expelled toxic smoke and the wind carried the chemicals to town. People were forced to use masks. The literal masks were supposed to show us that nobody really knew each other. That was probably the reason why the killer had been out and about for so long. I wish the picture had been more stripped down. I wanted to know more about Thurston and his friends. One of them had a seizure in class because his body could no longer deal with the drugs. They were so uninformed and addicted that they were stupid enough to take cleaning supplies from the kitchen and get high off them. That was far more realistic than some girl who wanted to have sex with her teacher just because she was bored. Lastly, the picture had some glaring inconsistencies. In the beginning, Caroline claimed that her father, in a span of a year, would eventually find out that he had cancer. A year had gone by and it was never mentioned again. “Daydream Nation” was cluttered, unfocused and depressing. There was not one teenager who was genuinely happy. Why is that? Its cynicism was bloated and pretentious.
Life as We Know It (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Eric (Josh Duhamel), complete strangers to one another, were supposed to go out for dinner because their married best friends thought they would get along swimmingly. But they called it quits before they even reached the restaurant. Holly thought Eric was a child trapped in a handsome man’s body, while Eric thought Holly was a pretty but uptight blonde who had no idea how to let her hair down for a change. But when their best friends died in a car accident, they were named as one-year-old Sophie’s guardians. Holly and Eric had to try to put their differences aside to take care of the baby. “Life as We Know It,” written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, were labeled by some critics as emotionally bankrupt because it used death as a source of commercial comedy. I’d have to disagree; plenty of films out there, especially dark comedies, have used the same topic and they received critical acclaim. I say why not as long as the film retained a certain level of respect. The movie didn’t feel malicious toward its subjects. The characters may have felt more like caricatures at times but, in general, it had a bona fide sense of humor. I just wish it had stayed away from too many gross-out humor involving vomit and changing diapers. Two or three of those scenes were more than enough but we were given about seven. The heart of the picture was Holly and Eric’s strained relationship. They tolerated each other but they obviously didn’t like each other. They were so used to having their way because they were single. The only thing they had to focus on was their career. Holly ran a business as a caterer (typically feminine) and Eric worked behind the scenes in a sports network (typically masculine). The story was most interesting when it focused on how they tried to change themselves and each other as they hoped to raise a healthy child. They had to break their typical feminine and masculine roles in order to be well-rounded parents. Their various approaches to parenting were rarely perfect–certain decisions were downright stupid like Eric leaving a baby to a cab driver just so he could go to work–but that was what made them charming. Through trial-and-error, they learned from their mistakes. Another source of conflict was the romance between Sam (Josh Lucas) and Holly. They should have had more scenes together instead of the unfunny scenes with the colorful neighbors (Melissa McCarthy) and the nosy Child Protection Services agent (Sarah Burns). We saw that they cared for each other but their situation was far from optimum. Holly was in a critical state of transition while Sam was ready to settle down. I was glad there wasn’t a typical rivalry between the two men in Holly’s life. “Life as We Know It,” directed by Greg Berlanti, had good elements but it was ultimately weighed down by too many slapstick humor and heavy-handed metaphor such as Holly’s business expansion reflecting Holly, Eric, and Sophie’s life at home. It could have been stronger if the writers eliminated comfortable but unnecessary clichés and taken more risks.