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Daydream Nation

[Rating: 2.5/5]

If you’re going to name your movie after an iconic and beloved rock album, a precise and perfectly executed mood piece, you better know what you’re doing.  Unfortunately, first-time director Michael Goldbach can’t really manage to live up to his title.  Casting Kat Dennings as his lead is a good start, as she seems the kind of gal who would have an iPod full of Sonic Youth.  But it’s downhill from there.

Dennings plays a big city girl transplanted, in her final year of high school, to a small Ohio town. Perhaps the first mistake of “Daydream” is that we never see her in her old surroundings, and have only the vaguest sense of what she’s lost.  And for the record, the Ohio town where she’s landed is pretty interesting, as far as small towns go; there’s an industrial fire that no one can put out, causing some of the inhabitants to walk around in old-school gas masks.  And as if that wasn’t enough excitement, there’s a white-suited serial killer on the loose who preys on little children and teenagers.  If Dennings’ life in the big city was more exciting, she must have been a costumed superhero.

So she decides to seduce her English teacher, the oh-so-scruffy and vulnerable Josh Lucas.  It’s not very difficult.  Dennings, as oddly beautiful and dour as she is, doesn’t impress me as an actress; she fails to communicate why in the world her character would make this choice, among many others she makes in the first act of the film.  There’s a fine line between mysterious and opaque, and Dennings falls on the wrong side of it.

“Daydream Nation” is full of directorial flourishes that ought to make this a more interesting movie, but (for the most part) just make it harder to follow.   There’s mood here, in bags; the story, though, could use some work, as could the characters.   One thing just seems to happen after another in “Nation,”  and while some of the things that happen are striking on their own, they don’t add up to a decent whole.  It’s an interesting failure of a movie.

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