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Tribeca Review: ‘Daddio’ is a Decent Feature-Length Conversation

How interesting can two people talking really be? There are many films that involve very few characters and take place within a finite period of time, but how worthwhile they are depends on the content of their conversation and how well the characters are written. Daddio is the latest such experiment, following one woman as she gets into a cab to head home from JFK Airport to Manhattan and engages in a surprisingly deep and incisive chat with her driver.

Dakota Johnson stars as the passenger, who immediately impresses Clark (Sean Penn) by giving cross streets for her midtown destination rather than a street address. He knows that she must live in the city, but he can’t peg her accent, and would never have guessed her hometown was in Oklahoma. Clark is also pleased that she’s not merely sitting on her phone the whole time, noting that she doesn’t have to talk to him but that it’s a rarity to see someone who doesn’t always need to be connected. While there are lulls, eventually the conversation picks back up again and again, becoming more personal as Clark pushes the woman in the back of his cab, whose name is listed in the film’s credits as Girlie, to answer his questions so that he can understand just who she is.

There are pieces of this film that feel deeply grounded in reality. It runs 101 minutes, a bit long for the typical trip from JFK to midtown Manhattan but very possible, especially considering the car accident they encounter which has them completely stopped for a good while. Clark is the embodiment of a typical NYC taxi driver, someone who has seen it all and believes himself to be capable of making character judgments based on just a few observations, and eager to share with any passenger about his life experience. Girlie feels like someone who might not usually engage such personalities, but in the intimacy of this space, has nowhere else to be.

While everyone has their secrets which they don’t tend to share with random strangers, those appear to be in abundance here as a ride lasting just more than an hour and a half reveals much from both parties, including how their parents treated them and how their most personal relationships started and ended. It would certainly be startling if a conversation this brutally honest and uncensored actually happened, especially between someone who just got off a flight and someone else who has been driving all day. That’s the magic of the movies, however, where entire life stories are condensed to under two hours with a few representative moments to summarize their worldviews.

Johnson was recently seen behind the wheel of an NYC cab in Madame Web and her long-delayed Sundance film Am I OK? has finally been released for streaming audiences on Max. She’s certainly a capable performer, and what this role asks of her is to be engaged and alternatively combative and inquisitive, which she does well. Penn puts on a thick New York accent to do his best impression of a typical lifelong New Yorker, which at times feels excessive and at others natural. They’re well-paired and certainly make this experience more engaging than it might have been in the hands of less committed actors.

Spending an entire film in a car will likely evoke audience memories of similar projects, particularly Steven Knight’s Locke, though that film reaches further depths while featuring just one face on camera. There are moments in which Daddio feels like it has something resounding to say, commenting not just on those two individual people but society as a whole. Overall, it struggles to remain focused on those high points, similar to a lengthy taxi ride from the airport which can’t be entirely interesting and terrific even if the driving is smooth and there isn’t much traffic.

Movie Rating: 6/10

Awards Buzz: While Penn is a two-time Oscar winner and Johnson has received positive notes for some of her performances, don’t expect this midyear entry, which screened last year at both Telluride and TIFF, to have much awards play.

Author

  • Abe Friedtanzer

    Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them.

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