Richard Kelly's DONNIE DARKO, a coming-of-age, romantic, black comedy about time
traveling, has an undeniable charm that's hard to properly describe.
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a likeable kid who hasn't been taking his
medicine lately, has an imaginary friend named Frank. Frank's an easy guy to
recognize since he always wears a bunny suit complete with a large rabbit head
and big, pointed ears. Frank is Donnie's personal party pooper since he keeps
giving him the countdown to the end of the world. As the story begins, it's
early October, and there are only a little over 28 days left.
Jake Gyllenhaal (OCTOBER SKY), whose sister Maggie plays Donnie's sister
Elizabeth, is terrific as a disaffected youth. We aren't sure if Donnie is nuts
or prescient. With a vacant stare and lips that have all manner of smirky
grins, Donnie is a hard guy to pigeonhole. His indulgent, naive parents, played
by Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne, tolerate profane insults since their boy
is ill. The father even tries to turn Donnie's calling his mother a bitch into
a compliment. The father says that his wife sure is bitchin, as in really
With a RUSHMORE kind of appeal, the movie chronicles a month in Donnie's life.
The wickedly funny script has many delightful, little episodes. In one, Donnie
and his buddies ponder the sex life of a Smurf. In the end, Donnie's friends
get mad at him for being too logical about it. Teenage boys don't like logic
messing up their sexual fantasies.
The movie's best scene occurs when Donnie's psychiatrist, played by a very old
looking Katharine Ross, hypnotizes him. She gets him on a subject that you
don't want to ask a boy with raging hormones while under hypnosis -- what he
thinks about at school.
The movie is filled with cute supporting performances. Patrick Swayze plays a
pompous motivational speaker whose specialty is controlling anger. In front of
the whole school, he labels Donnie, "an anger prisoner -- a textbook example."
Jena Malone (LIFE AS A HOUSE) is sweet as the new kid in town, who becomes
Donnie's girlfriend. One character, known as Grandma Death, spends her time
looking for non-existent letters in her mailbox, while ignoring moving cars that
she walks in front of. Drew Barrymore, the film's executive producer, has a
small role as Donnie's teacher. Although Barrymore is good at it, her part is
As time runs out on Frank's end of the world meter, we realize that we have
enjoyed our time with Donnie so much that we really wouldn't mind if the movie's
ending turns out to be a dud. No need to worry, however, as Richard Kelly's
creative energies keep flowing right down to the last frame.
DONNIE DARKO runs 1:53. It is rated R for "language, some drug use and
violence" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes