I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about when I picked Donnie Darko as the next Cinematical Movie Club film. It's the first-time cinematic anomaly, the super-weird flick that found cult adoration, the one that worked when all the flicks that followed it did not. At all. In retrospect, I've always wondered what made Donnie Darko what it became. If it was a some wild stroke of luck, if Richard Kelly sapped up all traces of perfect editorial mojo with his first foray, if the films that came after were too harshly judged because of the fame of the first outing, or if Donnie was the only film that brought it all together in a palatable way.
The reality, of course, is probably a combination of them all...
Donnie Darko didn't start off with an explosion. In fact, it barely made a splash, making a mere $1.27 million during its big-screen release (coming nowhere close to its $6 mil price tag.) But when it hit DVD, things really, really changed. In fact, it's such a fan favorite that IMDb's ranking of the Top 250 has it at 124, beating out previous movie club picks The Deer Hunter and The Graduate, as well as the likes of Ben-Hur, Gone with the Wind, Twelve Monkeys, and Shaun of the Dead.
The film follows the strange, convoluted, 8-obsessed timeline of a boy who is haunted by a large, freaky-looking rabbit, and how it's all part of this weird alternate universe leading him to one moment. He must decide whether he should allow himself to die, or let the world fall apart. Donnie is the smartie trapped in an adolescent body. His walls are typically adorned with bikini babes, but he's also too smart for his own good. Even without the hallucinations, Donnie sees through the false persona of Jim Cunningham, he understands the writing of Graham Greenewhen while his classmates do not, he makes his (smart) teachers go "wow," and he argues the subtleties of Smurf sex with rationale rather than libido.
Watching the film on Wednesday night, I began to wonder if its magic had nothing to do with the story, but the mixture of smarts, charisma, and humor bubbling at the start. Do we really care about the story, or are we just charmed by Donnie's one-liners and word play, "tell me, exactly how does one suck a fuck?," or, how Eddie Darko snorts when he learns of Donnie's bad school behavior? Of course, it helps that the soundtrack is completely killer, and each tune fits flawlessly into the whole -- especially once "Mad World" starts playing.
Could, perhaps, Richard Kelly be following the wrong genre? He continues with the wild and hard-to-fathom stories, but maybe the real gem is in that mixture of laughs and charisma -- getting someone like Jake Gyllenhaal to command the screen with sarcasm, and giving him truly irresistible lines. My favorite parts of the film aren't the moments of time exploration, but of all the filler in-between, from the highly relatable Republican v. Democrat familial strife to the ludicrous FAA guy in a red jogging suit. Perhaps Kelly should put aside the sci-fi and just be funny?
It's a theory I find strengthened when you consider the Director's Cut. We flock to new cuts of films, wondering if further magic can be gained, hungry to see the director's true vision. In this case, however, every glimpse of The Philosophy of Time Travel, every explanation, they all wrenched the wonder out of the story. Rather than strange, hard-to-peg, and magical, Donnie's journey became mundane. The curtain was lifted, but there wasn't even a Wizard to greet us.
Edited strictly, Kelly's future cinematic struggles seem surprising. But when Darko loses a lot of the clever cutting ... they're pretty darned understandable.
- What aspects of the film particularly appealed to you?
- Do you think the comedy (of the first half especially) is the sort that could excel in a Judd Apatow sort of way?
- I mentioned some of this during the Livetweet. From IMDb: "Well out of his teens, Vince Vaughn reportedly turned down the part of Donnie due to his age. Mark Wahlberg was interested in the part, but apparently was only willing to play the part with a lisp. Jason Schwartzman was also strongly considered for Donnie, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts." ... Thoughts?
- There are differing opinions on whether the Director's Cut is a worthy addition to the fandom. On which side do you fall?
- Considering the differences between the original and Director's Cut, do you think Kelly's other films could become cult favorites with the right tweaking?
It's time for a film that I've -- shockingly -- never seen. At first, it was a victim of horse squickiness, then just time and busy days. But it's about time that changed. This pick is a beloved classic, considered one of the best films of all time, and since its original release just to happened to be on March 24, 1972 -- the same day of next week's live tweet -- I had to pick it.
Next Week's Film: The Godfather | Add it to your Netflix queue
Once again, I will livetweet on Wednesday for The Godfather anniversary. But since this is another 3-hour flick, I'll start at 9:30 P.M. Eastern time. You can follow me at @MBartyzel, and join in on the discussion using both #cinemovieclub and #thegodfather.
Last Week's Film: The Deer Hunter