Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)

Donnie Darko has one of those discussion begging conclusions. So I’ll skip that aspect entirely and concentrate what director Kelly does so well. There’s a meticulous design to Darko but it’s mostly unimportant; once you get past the MacGuffin, it’s just this story about a teenage schizophrenic’s life coming apart.

Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding in the lead. Kelly’s script will occasionally give him some really difficult moments, sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn’t. One example is the therapy sessions–it’s unclear if Katharine Ross’s psychiatrist is supposed to be awful at her job–Gyllenhaal has some really rough dialogue at times.

Another odd spot is when Gyllenhaal is hanging out with sidekicks Stuart Stone and Gary Lundy. Kelly writes Gyllenhaal’s character as an unaware genius, so he’ll race past his friends in conversation–one of the beautiful things is how his girlfriend, played by Jena Malone, also isn’t as smart but somehow they pace each other.

But Kelly doesn’t just focus on Gyllenhaal. Mary McDonnell has a lot to do as his mother; she’s fantastic. Holmes Osborne is great as the dad too, but Kelly spreads his attention to odd characters. There’re Beth Grant’s nutty Christian lady (she’s appropriately terrifying) and Drew Barrymore’s driven English high school teacher. Barrymore’s awful. She put up some of the money for the movie, which explains her regrettable presence.

The soundtrack’s occasionally way too precious during montages, but Kelly keeps going until it works. He, Gyllenhaal, McDonnell and Malone make Darko a distinguished success.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richard Kelly; director of photography, Steven Poster; edited by Sam Bauer and Eric Strand; music by Michael Andrews; production designer, Alec Hammond; produced by Adam Fields and Sean McKittrick; released by Newmarket Films.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko), Jena Malone (Gretchen Ross), Mary McDonnell (Rose Darko), Holmes Osborne (Eddie Darko), Stuart Stone (Ronald Fisher), Gary Lundy (Sean Smith), Katharine Ross (Dr. Lilian Thurman), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Elizabeth Darko), Daveigh Chase (Sam Darko), Drew Barrymore (Karen Pomeroy), Noah Wyle (Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff), Beth Grant (Kitty Farmer), Alex Greenwald (Seth Devlin), Jolene Purdy (Cherita Chen) and Patrick Swayze (Jim Cunningham).

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