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copyright ©1999-2002

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flick pick | Donnie Darko 2001
Directed + written by: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Drew Barrymore
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: darkly comic, fantastical, mind-bending
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis It’s October 1988, the end of the Reagan era and a month before the Bush/Dukakis election. High school student Donnie Darko is a brilliant misfit whose "intimidating" test scores, cute geek charm, and perfect suburban family can’t make up for the fact that he has a hard time getting through his days. He’s depressed, anxious, angry, paranoid, and very possibly seriously schizophrenic. He has a very expensive shrink, and a prescription for meds he doesn’t always choose to take. One night, in a half-sleep state, Donnie’s lured out of his house in the middle of the night by a new imaginary friend, a grim, evil-bunny-suited man named Frank. Frank tells Donnie that the world is coming to an end. He even tells Donnie exactly when (28 days). The next morning, after waking up on the lush rolling greens of the town golf course, Donnie makes his way back home. He finds his house cordoned off by the police, the entire neighborhood gawking in the streets, his family standing aside looking rather shaken – and a giant airplane jet engine being lifted from the smashed roof. In a freak accident that no one can yet explain – all the airlines insist they don’t know anything about it -- the engine plummeted from the sky the evening before, straight into Donnie’s bedroom. Which means he has Frank the Bunny to thank for being alive, for the next 28 days at least. Understandably freaked by the idea of the end of the world, Donnie continues to receive visits from Frank, who leads him to wreak all sorts of havoc on the town of Middlesex’s peaceful façade. At the same time, Frank plants the idea of a time machine in his head – and when Donnie’s science teacher leads him to a book on the subject written by the town’s (other) local nutcase, an elderly lady they call Grandma Death, Donnie begins to see a way to get around the impending apocalypse.

Review I will confess straight out that, after one viewing at least, I don’t quite get Donnie Darko. Is it a sci-fi time travel comic-book fantasy, in which the hero truly does possess the power to see the future, or wholly the whacked-out delusions of one very-messed up teenage kid? Is this satire, a darkly humorous look at teenage angst and the oft-times outrageously over-wrought way it looks in hindsight, or is it tragedy, the sad story of a doomed boy in a severely repressed society? Does love or fear, the dichotomy of which is one of the movie’s central themes, win out in the end? It’s not always clear how much of the open-endedness is intentional and how much just a happy accident, but either way, Richard Kelly’s edgy, surreal, decidedly dark and twisted debut film keeps you guessing from beginning to end. In between, it’s also pretty funny – anyone who remembers the late 80s will find it impossible not to laugh at the many clever, spot-on perfect pop cultural references and jokes, most brilliant of all the presence of 80s superstud Patrick Swayze as a smarmy self-help guru beloved by all the middle-aged moms of Middlesex – and occasionally pretty sweet as well. Screwed-up as Donnie is, it’s certainly not for lack of a solid, supportive family -- Mom, Dad and especially sister Elizabeth, played by Gyllenhaal’s real-life big sister, are all supremely well-cast, and the family scenes always feel 100% authentic and real. Donnie’s romance with dreamy new girl Gretchen (Jena Malone) has moments of lovely innocence as well. Of course, one of the best things about Donnie Darko is boy-wonder du jour Jake Gyllenhaal, currently appearing in magazines everywhere, who may not (as of yet) have the greatest range, but sure does do quirky-cute, semi-pretentious, misfit-teenage angst awfully well. He’s awkward and smart and undeniably charming. At one point, Donnie’s lovely new girlfriend tells him "You’re weird … No, that was a compliment." It’s the same praise I’d extend to the movie itself.—reviewed by Y. Sun

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