Now Playing on Netflix: Dakota Skye on how to ruin a great idea

Posted on 07 January 2011 by ChloeG

It started out with such promise. Black screen. Opening credits. Silence. Silence.

The sound of a zippo flipping open and an unfocused spot of orange light in the black, like the opening strains of Truly, Madly, Deeply. A couple laying on grass, viewed from well above, he lays flat, she curls with her knees across his chest and her arms wrapped around her own shoulders, almost featureless in a too-big sweatshirt – clingy, intimate, insecure. It’s dark – the grass is ink-green, and he lights a cigarette. Touches her leg. Silence and the sound of bugs. Breathes out.

“I still have the dream sometimes. {beat} I do, I come home from the store {beat} and find you on my doorstep {beat} with a suitcase. {beat} And that’s your entire wardrobe. {beat} Just a carry on, a duffel bag. {beat} We don’t say anything. But you have this look in your eyes that kiiills me. {beat} It just… {beat, breath out} And I unlock the door and let you in. {beat, beat} That’s it. {beat} That’s the dream. {beat}When I wake up, {beat} I wake up happy. {beat beat beat} Vibrating for a few seconds with my head in the sand. {beat} Content. {beat beat beat sigh beat} Then it goes away and you go away. {beat beat} I really don’t want to get out of bed then, {beat} cause it’s cold out there. But I do. {beat beat} I get up. {beat} Life goes on. {beat beat … wait … sigh beat} Most days you never even cross my mind.” {beat}

“Tell me that you love me.”

I could diagram the whole line for an actor. I know what my notations look like to do such a thing. It’s brilliantly written, brilliantly executed. The shot is perfect. The voice is smooth, even, factual. Nothing sentimental, or over the top. Unrushed. The air of the scene is easily as important as the script. I sat up.

Vibrating.

What a capture. Genius.

Unfortunately, that’s the best bit of the movie. I fully recommend watching it, if you can appreciate just that, but the truth is, it’s a promise. It promises a movie with thoughtful, tactful script and timing. And ideas. What potential for ideas.

What materializes is a sub-par cast (save the actor who delivered the opening mini-monologue, Ian Nelson, who is unfortunately cast as a stoner and is never given opportunity to explore his full potential), a sub-par script, with sub-par ideas and a pushy pace. Dakota, the title heroine is ‘medium cute’ and able to read the truth behind people’s lies. (We get subtitles.) It’s her super power. This could have been clever, but it mostly just came across as a bad plot device with bad underlying humor. She’s disillusioned with the world – everyone lies – so she puts up with a best friend who doesn’t particularly like her, a boyfriend who may or may not have any interest in her beyond sex and accessory, and friends who… actually, friends is way to strong. They aren’t her friends. They’re her best friend’s friends who push her into studying for the SAT. It’s all they ever do. And deliver awkward single-word lines. There’s one third-string character who jumped out as a real person a couple of times, and good for her, but when the heroine is drifting along without any source of motivation, the efforts of one six-scene character aren’t going to amount to anything consequential.

Motivation.

Can I say it again? I will.

Motivation.

Why a character does what he does is the backbone of any movie. Dakota is beyond ennui. This isn’t angst. This is capitulation. She doesn’t want anything. Why does she do anything? I have no clue. She doesn’t care about school. She doesn’t care about her friends. She doesn’t care about sex. Her strongest emotion in the first half of the movie is easily her mild dislike of bowling. Oh, and heat. She ends two consecutive scenes with ‘god, it’s hot’ as a voice-over. Just so we the audience didn’t forget that Pheonix is in the desert.

Her straight-laced college-obsessed best friend thinks that her burnout, much older grunge rocker boyfriend is ‘amazing’. Her boyfriend’s best friend hasn’t been able to get her face out of his mind since the first time he saw her – you remember, she rolled her eyes at him from under her boyfriend’s armpit.

I quickly got fed up with the whole thing. It’s as though two people wrote the script. One person wrote all of Jonah’s lines (Nelson), and someone else wrote the rest of it. I could go on about the brilliant things that Jonah says in this movie. The mind behind the opening scene doesn’t vaporize. It simply chose not to participate in the ‘making the movie’ bit of making the movie. The cinematography is engaging enough that even I noticed. This could have been a good movie.

I came to this movie with a recommendation from Netflix (even the master algorithm gets some movie picks wrong) and a sensation that this was one of those movies that I was supposed to have seen. On further review, I think I mixed up the titles of October Sky and Feeling Minnesota. I don’t regret watching it. The opening scene was worth the 90 minutes, and ‘vibrations’ was not the only nugget of genius to be found. It’s just that by the time I got to the rest of them, I was no longer in any mood to appreciate them. It took me days to unpack this movie and move on.

The metrics:

  • Opening weekend? Hardly.
  • Rewatch? Ian Nelson intrigues me. I might chase that down. I might not.
  • Recommend to a stranger? Too much baggage. This one’s a no.

Categorized | Commentary, Reviews

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