It is 1988. A government election looms, a fact that divides the Darko household, an altogether nuclear family of nice parents, two dysfunctional young adults and the slightly over-shadowed younger teen sibling, capable of making noise without really being heard.
This story however revolves around Donnie (Jake Gylenhaal), a whip smart and opinionated but nonetheless troubled – and therefore medicated – young man who seems perpetually bemused by the goings on about him.
Donnie also sleepwalks. Or should I say sleephikes? As one of his lengthy outdoor somnambulistic sojourns sees him outside at the moment a large chunk of a larger aeroplane tears through the roof and ceiling, landing right where Donnie might ordinarily lie.
This development could be viewed as cosmic fate, or plain old good luck. His family members are obviously delighted that Donnie’s otherwise inexplicable disappearance seems to have saved his life. For his part though, Donnie is a little more preoccupied by the conversation that he had while sleepwalking with Frank the metal faced rabbit…
As the film progresses both Donnie’s waking and sleeping existences become even more action packed and frenetic – no wonder young teens seem stressed. There are run ins at his school which lead to various degrees of unwanted intervention, and the opinions from others that Donnie and his ‘dissociative’ behaviours might no longer be tolerated regardless of recent events.
No, this is not your typical ‘broody rebellious teen’ flick. Nor is it the breath of fresh air that many cultists claim it to be. Sure it has a strong cast (Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Patrick Swayze, the Ggyylleennhhaaaallss?), but it comes across as more an emo-Rushmore, one lone misunderstood boy amid a sea of them. As with the similarly period influenced Dazed and Confused, the soundtrack here is either unbelievably perfect for the film or unbelievably clichéd. Either way it works.
Gylenhaal is solid as the dead eyed Donnie, his big Sis Maggie is fine as the more animated older sister, and the miscellaneous Big Names playing low key supporting roles all manage to not try to steal the film.
The finale does little to amaze or astonish, and while I guess it brings things together, sometimes it’s better to leave weird plots weird. Sometimes the desire to ‘solve’ things only dilutes the end result. I had the distinct impression that a film which just had a confused lad talking to a metal faced rabbit as more intriguing.
Audiences seem to want to side with the troubled and misunderstood – so long as they’re played by drop dead gorgeous guys or gals (imagine how creepy it might be if Donnie was played by a sallow and expressionless Jonah Hill) – and while I give credit for being a more than solid film (a 7.5 is a highish score), the fact is I don’t ever think I will have a nanosecond where I will feel impelled to watch it again.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. A ‘cult film’ that actually deserves the praise – if not the adulation and obsession that some are willing to bestow.