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Donnie Darko

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Daveigh Chase, James Duval, Alex Greenwald, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Written and Directed by Richard Kelly

IN SHORT: Good drama with a great SF twist. [Rated R for language, some drug use and violence. 118 minutes]

As we shall learn from self-help guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) there is Fear and there is Love and everything in between is what comprises Life. Cunningham has all the teachers at Donnie Darko's school in thrall and while his participation in this film is relatively minor, his theory is as good place as any to start this report on the stunning debut by writer/director Richard Kelly.

It's hard enough being a teenager. It's even harder being a teenager in a movie -- we dread sitting through any teen themed flick as most feel as if they've been written by old men who think they know what teens are thinking and feeling. Donnie Darko is Kelly's first screenplay after film school, which keeps him close enough to the age group to be more in touch. He also sets the film in the late 1980s, the time of his teenhood, and concentrates on developing characters that suffer through everything that every new teen suffers through. See sentence one, paragraph one.

For Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), as with a lot of middle class teens, there is his weekly time with the shrink, the nightly prescription, the distant parents and requisite communications problems, and confidences shared with his best friend, Frank (James Duval). Frank happens to be a six foot tall invisible rabbit (or man in a bunny suit, your choice) who lives in a parallel dimension that may or may not be a figment of Donnie's imagination. More important is the fact that Donnie has a sleepwalking disorder, which happens to save his life when a stray jet engine comes crashing through the roof of his house .

After a close call like that, everyday ordinary things seem extraordinary. The new girl in class Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone) decides to sit in the next seat 'cuz you're cute. The class bully (Alex Greenwald) still picks on you but your English teacher (Drew Barrymore) can point out that the root of all that is wrong can be found in a short story by Graham Greene. Your cute little sister (Daveigh Chase) wants to be a dancer. Your older sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal) wants to go to Harvard and everybody seems to have these watery tendrils growing out of their chests, almost foreshadowing every motion to follow. Luckily, your Physics teacher (Noah Wyle) can point you in the right direction when you start considering the possibility of time travel and multidimensional communications.

Nothing unusual about that. Thoughts of things derived from science fiction are perfectly normal for teenboys, assuming that little has changed from the days when we affixed "teen" to our age. What is extraordinary about Donnie Darko is that you're halfway into the drama before it starts dropping special effects and other things SF into the picture and that's long before a whammer jammer of a twist at movie's end . . . Because, even if everything is perfect, what if you could go back in time and make it better, or fix what isn't perfect? Heck, if you've got a name like a superhero, you might as well be one, right?

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Donnie Darko, he would have paid . . .


Wrong. Everything we've written is true. Everything we've written can be seen to be a lie as well. Donnie Darko is one big surprise, beginning with the fact that the teevee spot makes it look like a horror flick. It isn't. Nor is it something that will appeal just to kidlets. It's a rare thing to find a flick that is as intelligent as it it captivating to watch. Seek it out.

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