Daydream Nation opens as its central character, Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings), bemoans her current state of affairs. Thanks to her father (Ted Whittall), a widower, the worldly Caroline has abandoned the big city for small-town USA. It’s not a particularly boring community (the town’s goings-on include constantly burning gas industrial fires, a raging drug scene, and, last but not least, a serial killer who targets young children), yet Caroline, finding little in the way of a social life, is bored.
Though disaffection is a staple of teen films, Daydream Nation suffers from an overabundance of ennui. While there is nothing particularly wrong with Dennings’ performance, the ongoing child murders in Caroline’s community cause her boy troubles to seem remarkably insignificant, and her disdain for those around her undeservedly harsh. The character of Caroline is clearly meant to possess depth and experience, but these qualities are conveyed through obscure film references and a casual approach to sex, giving her an air of elitism that is flat and silly compared to the genuine emotion exhibited by the “hicks” around her.
The film’s strengths lie in its supporting cast. Reece Thompson in the role of Thurston, a teenage stoner suffering from PTSD following the death of his best friend, is just the right amounts of sad, awkward, and dopily lovable. Josh Lucas’ portrayal of Barry Anderson, a thirtysomething teacher who makes only the most feeble of protests before agreeing to a sexual relationship with Caroline, remains sympathetic despite his increasingly despicable actions, and Andie MacDowell and Ted Whittall are compelling in their roles as Caroline’s and Thurston’s parents. However, seeing as Daydream Nation is a story about growing up, it’s problematic that the adults outshine the youth.
Having little in the way of substance to prop it up, Daydream Nation falls under the burden of its own angst. There are plenty of similarly themed films that have something of importance to say in regard to the struggle that is adolescence (Heathers, Donnie Darko, and Ghost World, to name a few), but this isn’t one of them. leave a comment --Tracie Cooper