By Don Simpson | May 6, 2011
Director: Michael Goldbach
Writer: Michael Goldbach
Starring: Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas, Reece Thompson, Andie MacDowell, Rachel Blanchard
The year this story takes place is the year that nearly everything happened to 17-year-old Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings) — or at least that is how Caroline’s narration introduces Daydream Nation. Caroline’s widowed father (Ted Whittall) has relocated them from a big city to bumble fuck suburbia, a town purportedly with more incest than an Atom Egoyan film…and a white-suited psycho killer (Qu’est-ce que c’est?) is on the loose.
Caroline immediately realizes that she is mentally superior to the drugged-out lowlifes in her new high school, so she opts to pursue the one male who she considers to be her intellectual equal, her 30-something English teacher, Barry (Josh Lucas). As a disguise for their tawdry affair, Caroline simultaneously develops a relationship with a sweet and awkward — but also troubled — classmate, Thurston (Reece Thompson). Cue the bizarre love triangle. (“Every time I think of you, I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue…”)
A hyper-intelligent high school girl with an Algonquin table of wit, Caroline is really not all that different from Easy A‘s Olive; except that I found Caroline to be a more well-rounded character (and I am not talking about her ample bosom or voluptuous lips)…that is until she becomes just another conniving young vixen bouncing between the beds of two suitors. Love is a battlefield and Caroline leaves a casual victim pile in the wake of her so-called sexual revolution.
Where Daydream Nation succeeds is in portraying two male — Barry and Thurston’s — fantasies of who they want Caroline to be: Barry wants Caroline to be his young sex toy and literary muse while Thurston dreams that Caroline is the sweet yet friendless new girl next door. (Taken out of context, that last sentence reads like I am reviewing a lost episode of Joss Whedon’s short-lived television series Dollhouse.) But this is Caroline’s story — she is our narrator, this is clearly from her perspective — so who knows what we should believe.
Caroline is our daydream believer in Daydream Nation; surrounded by a sonically youthful indie rock soundtrack (Beach House, Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, Stars, Sonic Youth, Devendra Banhart and Emily Haines) she struts through the dazed and confused narrative like a sexy kool thing. In this hyper-exaggerated fantasy world, Caroline’s one wish is to be rescued from the fools of this podunk town (where the guys are all sexist and the stupid girls just eat it up) that insufferably pervade her existence. Until then, she will dream, dream, dream…
The Sonic Youth record from which this film derives its name was ground-breaking in its anarchistic deconstruction of known musical paradigms. Sonic Youth ignored all preexisting musical genres and created a sound collage that was unique. Without Daydream Nation, punk rock would have never broke (three years later) in 1991 and Nirvana may have never existed. Who knows what music would sound like now? Very few records in the late 1980s can claim to be as influential as Daydream Nation.
What does Canadian writer-director Michael Goldbach do with his film Daydream Nation? Well, for one, he over-relies on the crutch of Caroline’s narration — which all but ruins the film for me. Goldbach also falls way short of developing Caroline into the strong feminist role model she purports to be. The worst foul of them all: Daydream Nation ties up all of its plot lines with one simple and concise action. (Sure it is an expected conclusion, but it is too damn preposterous to matter.) Okay, so Goldbach does deserve some credit for developing such a weirdly demented coming-of-age rom-com, but the strangeness seems all too purposeful and rarely works in the context of the plot.
Essentially, Goldbach’s Daydream Nation is as genre-redefining as a brick over the head. That said — the transcendently cinematic visuals (lensed by Jon Joffin) are quite stunning and I love the soundtrack, especially the use of the Stars’ track “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”.