Starring Kat Dennings, Reece Thompson, and Josh Lucas. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, April 15, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
The philosophical teen carrying the world’s weight in Daydream Nation is one Caroline Wexler, played by Kat Dennings, who handily flipped off everyone who bugged her in Defendor and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Having recently moved with her widowed dad to a nowhere town boasting a permanent industrial stench, a plethora of fatal car accidents, and kids who have bong hits for breakfast, Caroline was born to be called “whip smart”. And, boy, does she like trouble. When the hot new English teacher (Josh Lucas) asks his students to write essays on the historical figures they most admire, she picks Monica Lewinsky.
Watch the trailer for Daydream Nation.
She’s pretty much out there, but something like normal does arrive in the form of a sensitive boy played by Reece Thompson. (Andie MacDowell plays his mom.) Like the film’s title, this kid’s name—Thurston—has been appropriated from Sonic Youth, whose music joins other daydreamy indie rockers on an overstuffed soundtrack. The dialogue, from new writer-director Michael Goldbach, is peppered with references to filmmakers like Atom Egoyan and Roman Polanski, so it should be no stretch to spot other obvious borrowings.
This can be amusing, as in an explicit homage to Taxi Driver when one character goes nuts. But the movie is an absurdly ambitious jumble of recent youth-movie styles marbled by occasional veins of striking originality. Dennings is fiercely convincing in the title role—think Juno with big boobs—but given the amount of snark she puts into her screen time and supercilious narration, the movie asks too much when it shifts tones at the end and asks us to moon over Caroline’s softer side. This Nation strives hard to be different; does it also have to be nice?