‘Daddio’ Review: Sean Penn And Dakota Johnson Drive Breakthrough First Film From Christy Hall – Telluride Film Festival

Daddio is a knockout, the sort of breakthrough by a virtual unknown that many might dream about but only rarely takes place. Entirely set in a taxi stuck for a long time at night on a jammed highway heading from New York City’s JFK airport to Manhattan, debuting writer-director Christy Hall has created a marvelous two-hander between a veteran New York cabbie who’s seen it all and a young woman trying to figure things out.

Sean Penn is at his absolute best here in a tremendously engaging performance as a salty working-class guy with an endless supply of opinions and ways of drawing out his passengers, while Dakota Johnson more than holds her own as a game passenger increasingly willing to share her problems with the amateur shrink behind the wheel. The film should play very well to a wide range of audiences.

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After flying rather under the radar over the past few years, Penn reasserts his longtime position as one of the top American actors, not by digging deep, and sometimes too deep, into histrionics and rage, but with humor and a way of looking at life from all sorts of angels. By any measure, he’s a mensch, even though he doesn’t have much to show for it, a guy with great humor and a sense of what he wants but no idea how to put his mental abilities to practical use.

You see very little through the car windows on this dark night, and the conversation begins innocuously enough until the traffic slows and it becomes clear that the two will be together on a blocked highway for quite some time. And so begins an unexpected journey into the night, one that sees them exchanging some confidences but is heavily weighted toward Will Clark (Penn) beginning, in a casual and often amusing way, to ask questions about her and her life.

She may not be entirely forthcoming right off the bat, but the amusing and loquacious ways in which Will poses questions and makes comments are often very funny and never seem overbearing. The guy is so charming and self-deprecating in telling his own stories that it’s easy to believe that people just open up to him.

As the traffic remains stalled, more and more comes out, progressively of a more serious nature where Clark is concerned; in only a couple of passing moments does the dialogue seem a tad forced or unnatural.

On a relatively low budget, the work in every department is outstanding.

Title: Daddio
Festival: Telluride
Director-screenwriter: Christy Hall
Cast: Sean Penn, Dakota Johnson
Running time: 1 hr 41 min
Sales agent: WME Independent and CAA Media Finance

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