Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnell
Writer/Director: Richard Kelly
Released: New Market/ Pandora (2001)
Hailed as a psychological thriller, Donnie Darko gets it half-right--psychological, yes, but not very thrilling. This movie has attained a cult status that escapes me. Aside from being the movie that put the Gyllenhaal siblings on the Hollywood map, I'm not sure where the staying power for this movie comes from.
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the loose screw in the tightly wound machine that is his suburbanite family. Set in October 1988--for the sake of a killer soundtrack and a jab at George Bush Sr.--Donnie has stopped taking his medication for paranoid schizophrenia, subsequently having visions of a giant bunny rabbit named Frank. And Frank bears the prophetic news that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.
From there the movie sets a course through stylized scenes of high school life, suburban life, and a sullen view of teen life for one disturbed young man. While the movie is pretty good, there were plenty of moments when it felt like an MTV affectation of Hitchockian film making. Teen angst coupled with a surreal tinge of science-fiction (wormholes and time travel) create an interesting blend, but Richard Kelly's message got lost in the medium.
I will say it's a film to be seen or re-seen for, if nothing else, the cavalcade of characters and the actors who play them. Mary McDonnell plays Donnie's mother and manages to steal a majority of the scenes she's in with an understated approach that's refreshing in this movie. Patrick Swayze comparatively goes to the other end of the acting spectrum in his role as the motivational speaker/douchebag. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Donnie's sister and further convinces me that she doesn't age--she'll look the same when she's forty ... because she looks forty now. And even Seth Rogan appears as one of the school bullies that ceaselessly torments Donnie. It's difficult to imagine what a star he'll become in the ensuing years.
I lack the gall to describe this movie as "excitingly original" like Entertainment Weekly did, but there is a dark charm to the movie. The character study of Donnie Darko falls short, however, in a muddled movie that's more superficial than superlative.