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'Daddio' Review

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June 24, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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A 2024 release that could have easily found a better home in 2020, Christy Hall’s Daddio is one of those single-location films that popped up time and time again on streaming services during the waning days of the pandemic. It was almost a cheat code for stars and filmmakers to keep themselves active, limiting the action of the project to one location and keeping the number of cast members to less than you can count on one hand. The problem was that many felt exactly like that: an excuse to get back to work rather than a genius idea that plays with time and setting (examples include Locked Down and The Guilty). But there were also some gems like One Night in Miami… and The Outfit. Daddio falls somewhere in the middle, never irritating because of its pandemic-esque presentation, but never unique enough to break through this subgenre.

The concept is as simple as the setting: An unnamed woman (Dakota Johnson) hails a cab from JFK airport to get home. The driver, Clark (Sean Penn), and her start to share a bond during their late-night journey, striking up conversations as they deal with traffic, construction, and all the other things New York throws at them.

Clark is a vulgar driver, one of those who “tells it like it is” as he spouts some pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo about the way humans behave. At first, he’s pretty courteous, complementing Johnson’s character for not being on her phone as they drive away. Quickly that turns into a monologue that starts with him saying “We used to be a culture…” filled with mini-rants on credit cards, technology, and apps.

It’s this opening stretch of Daddio that’s the roughest, as Hall’s weakest material is used to acclimate us to these characters and setting. The weakness has less to do with the quality of the writing, lying more with the tiredness that comes from the specific points it is trying to make. The generational archetypes that these characters possess have been mined over and over again throughout the years, almost to the point where there’s nothing left to explore. That’s not to say that filmmakers should steer away from the material altogether, but there definitely needs to be something truly special to incite even a modicum of interest.

Hall doesn’t possess that with her script, even if the actors show a great ability to hold our attention. Johnson often lives and dies by the material she’s been given (see The Lost Daughter compared to Madame Web), with this being closer to the former example. There’s an aura of confidence radiating from her in attempting the one-location challenge, something that Penn also matches from the front seat. His casting is almost too perfect, which maybe comes from the fact he played a very similar role as a no-nonsense ambulance driver to a much younger co-star in Tye Sheridan in last year’s Asphalt City.

The streetlights glittering the highway are always perfectly angled to illuminate Penn’s eyes, and the distant skyscrapers reflect in the windows. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael makes the brief glimpses outside the cab incredibly gorgeous, with the steam from the sewers and stoplights creating a smoky cool setting. The edges of the frame are tinged black, almost as if you’re looking through a half-awakened eye that just got off a red-eye flight.

Hall places importance on the little things inside the cab just as much as what goes on outside of it. The camera will catch a twitch of the eye or a certain hand gesture, all of them adding up to reveal more about the characters. It’s an impressive showcase for her as a director, one that inspires confidence for the future.

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