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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz


A Beautiful Midsummer Night’s Waltz Of The Soul

The experience of watching Christy Hall’s Daddio is like being at a party where you’re constantly being asked to dance but for some unsure reason, you are reluctant to accept. There’s nowhere to hide and you don’t want to dance. Slowly but gradually, the atmosphere softens and you let your guard down and your confidence intensifies until you find yourself amid a beautiful midsummer night’s waltz of the soul. 

Daddio simply follows Dakota Johnson’s (Named solely as Girlie in the credits) cab ride home from JFK late at night following a harrowing visit with her estranged sister in Oklahoma. The cab driver Clark (Sean Penn) is chatty, playful, uncensored, unapologetic, wise, silly, hardened, and much more sensitive than he initially lets on. Daddio takes place entirely inside the cab except for Girlie leaving JFK in the opening shot and her apartment at the film's watery end. There’s traffic as a result of a brutal car crash up ahead, long tunnels, and gorgeous imagery of New York that can only ever be appreciated at night. 

The chemistry between Johnson and Penn (who are real-life friends and neighbors) sizzles effortlessly with ease like a little sugar dissolving in a hot cup of tea. Individually, they bring to life the anguish, insecurities, humor, and heart of Daddio’s passengers. In turn, they both are the drivers of the film and we as the audience are the passengers.

Girlie’s older married lover continuously texts her with requests for photos of her so that he can pleasure himself, with an emphasis on only his needs.  Throughout the journey, the very observant Clark guesses right as to Girlie’s role in her affair. Initially in shock and annoyed at her exposure, Girlie eventually opens up as the conversation turns to a human being’s natural need for sex, adultery, and societal assumptions about why men and women have affairs and what they get out of it. 

Girlie finds herself conflicted as she hesitantly considers that she may just be a “Toy” in her lover’s world as a means for him to deal with the stress of his family life. The texts he sends her become less outrageous as the night slows down and he senses she may be starting to slip away. Clark meanwhile tells of his own failed marriages and regrets. Girlie’s eventual nonjudgemental curiosity puts him at ease and he acknowledges that he sometimes misses his wife and his hand in the destruction of their life together. 

Girlie’s childhood, her fractured relationship with her dad whom she hasn’t seen since she was six, and her questionable account of their last moment all come to light as the traffic starts to let up. Girlie finds herself fighting for a truth that she’s convinced herself is real and grieves the certainty she’s lived with that her version is correct. 

Clark’s sensitive side is completely limitless on the final stretch of the journey, leading Girlie to acknowledge a horrible series of events in which her body betrayed her while she was visiting her sister and the wretchedness she felt regarding her attempts to hide it. This betrayal has a lot to do with the anatomical region of a woman’s body and from a health perspective, the reality that women are often unable to trust that their bodies will take care of them. 

I can’t imagine any woman not feeling seen and heard by what Johnson brings to this role, especially in the final moments of the film. And men….they get to see what happens when they disavow the limitations of their emotions that society assigns them from birth. Penn himself has said he hasn’t enjoyed working on a film set in years. Daddio is hopefully a rebirth for one of the industry's most memorable actors and Johnson’s work ethic, genuine passion, and commitment to telling stories like Daddio makes for a two-hander you’ll never want to part from.

Christy Hall’s perspective is right on track and never too on the nose. She knows how to create sentimentality without “hallmarking” or cheapening it. She doesn’t romanticize pain but she never holds back either. She’s an exceptionally modern voice and I can’t wait for her sophomore feature. 

“At the end of the day, everything comes into focus, and then it goes out again. But that’s a story for another cab ride.” 

The Movie Waffler. New Trailer and Poster for DADDIO, Starring Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn, Accessed 6 July 2024.

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