Donnie Darko doesn't get along too well with his family, his teachers and his classmates; but he does manage to find a sympathetic friend in Gretchen, who agrees to date him. He has a compassionate psychiatrist, who discovers hypnosis is the means to unlock hidden secrets. His other companion may not be a true ally. Donnie has a friend named Frank - a large bunny which only Donnie can see. When an engine falls off a plane and destroys his bedroom, Donnie is not there. Both the event, and Donnie's escape, seem to have been caused by supernatural events. Donnie's mental illness, if such it is, may never allow him to find out for sure.
Directed by: Richard Kelly
. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
, Holmes Osborne
, Maggie Gyllenhaal
, Daveigh Chase
, Mary McDonnell
, James Duval
, Arthur Taxier
, Patrick Swayze
, Mark Hoffman
, David St. James
, Tom Tangen
, Jazzie Mahannah
, Jolene Purdy
. Music by: Michael Andrews
Donnie Dorko is sort of a mess, but it's more like six or seven annoying student films crammed into one feature. It has an interesting beginning and finish, but the middle is frustratingly awkward and dull.
The best thing about the film is its premise and its impressive visual style. The weakest aspects of the films are its weak characterizations and acting, its phony late 1980's setting and overall bad scenes. It's kind of a riff on the play and Jimmy Stewart film HARVEY, about a man who has a rabbit friend he calls Harvey who of course is just a product of his imagination. HARVEY, however, is a comedy -- a good comedy at that. This film on the other hand, like an insecure teenager, takes itself way too seriously.
What really bugged me the most about this film was how horrible and unconvincing the high school setting was. I went to high school in the 80's, and this school in this film did not resemble any American high school that I have ever seen or heard of. This was supposed to be a private school? This had to be the single dumbest and most pathetic group of privileged white upper class students ever portrayed on film. These kids (especially the boys) would barely make it, academically, at Inglewood High much less at a privileged academy. At first, I thought it was supposed to be a reform school or military academy because all of the boys at the school were such violent-prone waste case losers. But with all the intelligent, well-behaved girls at the school you realize that it supposed to be some bogus co-ed private school.
The teachers at the school are even less credible than the students. Drew Barrymore gives the absolutely worst performance of her career as a self-absorbed English teacher. She also has one of the stupidest lines in movie history; when a new female student asks where she should sit, Barrymore utters, "why don't you sit next to the cutest boy in the class." My friends and I were openly making fun of the film at this point. Also, inexplicably, Noah Wyle agreed to take a part in this film at the nice guy teacher. Bad move. A furniture polish commercial would have made a better career choice. Then there is Patrick Swayze's character: a millionaire motivational speaker who seems to have nothing better to do than to hang around this Stepford Wives setting of numbed out teenagers. How did this man get so wealthy and influential? He's not convincing to anyone at all. The director wants us to believe Donnie Dorko is somehow enlightened, intelligent and well adjusted, when he openly insults Swayze's character at a high school assembly. Unfortunately, the only way the director can relate Donnie's intelligence and insight is by making all of the other characters in the film out to be complete idiots. Even Donnie's Harvard bound sister seems instead like she should be bound for Sacramento State University. Then there are Donnie's parents who are Republicans, but not disciplinarians. Of course Donnie would have emotional problems, because everyone else in Donnie's hometown is a figment of detached movie reality.
One scene that represented everything wrong with this film was the obligatory 80's culture discussion, which in this film is a discussion about the role of Smurfette in the community of the Smurfs. The discussion had no place in the film except that it served to make Donnie seem insightful, when in fact many kids in the 80's (or any other time) seemed to have much wittier and interesting discussions than in this film. No one in this film says anything funny or clever -- ever. There is no wit, no teenage recklessness or unabashed nuttiness. There is just Donnie and the community he comes from, in which everyone is dumbed down to make Donnie seem interesting.
What did I like about this film? I suppose I liked the bunny, the jet engine thing and the twist at the end. But I don't care to piece puzzle films like this back together. I'm not interested in what a film like this "meant" or "what happened" because a film like this is too pretentious to have any meaning or depth. Ultimately, what matters to me is whether I enjoyed the film while it was playing before my eyes. And in the case of this film, the answer is "no." There were too many scenes with no real tension or suspense and there were too many scenes that didn't need to belong in this film but were simply there to try to indicate that the film took place in the 1980's. By the way, I couldn't think of a single good reason this film needed to be set in the 80's. In fact, it would have worked much better if it were set in the present day, and it would have worked much better if the audience didn't know ahead of time that the film was counting down to Halloween.
Then there is Donnie himself, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who unfortunately resembles a creepy, morose, dark haired version of Seth Green. I kept waiting for Dr. Evil to pop out of the bunny suit and say "shhh." Gyllenhaal is decent in the role, but he doesn't have much to work with except when the bunny is also on screen. Also, when he has visions, the visions are the most uninteresting creations of CGI effects. In other words, Donnie has visions of special effects.
On top of there is a whole time warp, portal dimension plot that belongs in another film. Then there is the mental illness aspect that seems to be the focus of the film and then suddenly disappears. There are simply too many movies, too much going on in this film -- more than this director has the talent and capability to handle. He needs to go back to film school take a course on Italian neo-realism. However, he does have talent as a director. He probably simply needs to grow up a bit and live life some more. There are some images in this film that are very striking. Strangely, the image that caught my eye the most was the image of the chandelier trembling over the stairway after the jet engine falls on the house. This was a very striking image -- perhaps because it contained what much of the rest of the film lacked: simplicity, tension and a feeling of strong emotion.
Review by enicholson from the Internet Movie Database.