DADDIO Gives Us Another Quintessential New York Story

“People are people, and people get lonely.”

So few films can rightly call themselves “slice of life.” This is because not too many movies (even indie ones) care about observing the seemingly simplistic aspects of characters existing in their own everyday world, living the intricacies of their own lives, whatever they may be. Most titles now care too much about their films containing gimmicks, hooks, and anything even remotely sensational, salacious, or revelatory. So few people within the film world, regardless of whether they’re investors, producers, directors, actors, or audiences, seem willing to give an hour and forty minutes to a story of two people meeting, talking, and exploring one another the way humans have (once in a blue moon) been known to do. Other than the fact that the two characters in Daddio share a great deal of personal details over the course of a nighttime cab ride, there’s no real gimmick, no timely societal comment; just two wounded individuals finding each other. 

Upon arriving back in New York City, a young woman named Girlie (Dakota Johnson) hires a taxi driven by the middle-aged Clark (Sean Penn) from the airport back to her apartment. On the way, an accident causing miles of backed-up traffic prompts the two to go from the kind of typical small talk shared between driver and passenger to deep conversations where both will be forced to confront the darkness of their pasts.

Audiences could be forgiven if the first half of Daddio doesn’t register with them in terms of curiosity or emotion, even by character study standards. It doesn’t seem like our central couple has much to say to each other even after the ice has broken and layers of their respective characters start to be revealed. A small collection of cliches and proven assumptions tend to comprise the backgrounds of Girlie and Clark, causing some worry, especially considering how much both performers are giving to their parts. Despite some considerable chemistry, neither Goldie nor Calrk are seen talking about anything remotely interesting or profound. Every topic of conversation feels slightly forced and stilted, with the discussion about the different sexes and what they want from each other coming across as surprisingly tame, especially considering there are a pair of examples from two sides of the gender and generational spectrums ready for such a worthwhile discussion on the subject. It’s during this conversational moment where the film jumps too far (without actually going anywhere) in its attempt to be a timeless indie tale that’s also well aware of the kind of world it’s living in.

But something happens in the second half of Daddio that subtly changes the game. No, there isn’t some great plot turn or twist. Instead, we come to realize that the characters have somehow managed to endear themselves to us in ways that go beyond great work from the actors playing them. We see guards being lowered in favor of a longing to be free from the secrets and pain that have defined much of Girlie’s and Clark’s realities for so long. This is helped by some small, but effective visual flourishes, such as seeing the two characters through Clark’s rearview mirror. Daddio comes alive the more the characters themselves do as they willfully shed their reluctance to be present in the world they live in. Their rapport, especially, gets more playful as their journey continues, contributing to the overall softness and soulfulness that the two eventually manage to conjure up. By far, the strongest example of this, not to mention the best scene in Daddio‘s back half, has to do with when Girlie and Clark are indulging in their wishful sides with the former wanting to become a birdwatcher in Central Park and the latter expressing a desire to visit Japan. In this scene alone, Daddio shows the comfort and beauty of being able to confide in a total stranger.

I’m so glad Daddio‘s found its way to these two actors. This is the kind of film that allows both Johnson and Penn to shine in ways we both know them to be capable of. The characters of Girlie and Clark may appear thinly written at first (understandably so), but the interiority both actors give to their parts helps them to come alive in ways no other screen pairing could have managed. Both actors have made headlines this year in the press regarding the industry with Johnson commenting that she doesn’t belong in the world of comic book movies and Penn saying he hasn’t felt at home on a set since 2008’s Milk. With Daddio, both actors prove they’re right where they belong.

Every once in a while as the film was playing, I would find myself asking what the term “daddio” means. I knew I had heard it before somewhere, but I failed to pinpoint where, or what it was meant to represent. Looking it up just before starting this review, I learned that the definition of daddio means: “a term of familiar address to a man, originally used by jazz musicians to display camaraderie.” It’s not surprising that writer/director Cristy Hall chose such a yesteryear term as her movie’s title. The beauty of Daddio is that it’s written by an old soul, one who lives in the present but cannot help but be drawn to the past. With her directorial debut, Hall transcends many of the generational divides that exist today to tell a story about a pair of lost souls who, in many ways, are frozen in time. Despite any initial bumpiness, Daddio ends up being a thoughtful character piece about two people seeing each other in a way no one else has seen them before.

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