Wednesday, June 26, 2024

An intriguing cab ride in New York

   If you've ever hopped into a New York City taxi, you might have encountered a particular type of driver, the guy who seems to know everything and wastes no time telling you so.
   Director Christy Hall capitalizes on a cabbie cliche in Daddio, a two-hander starring Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson. That's not to say, though, that the movie is dominated by cliches.
    As the movie's cab ride progresses from JFK to midtown Manhattan, Clark reveals his vulnerability, along with an ability to empathize with a passenger who seems to be facing a pivotal decision in her life.
   It's not always easy to believe that Johnson's
character, listed in the credits as Girlie, would reveal as much as she does, but the movie is based on the idea that it can be easier to be honest with strangers than with those who know us well. There's less at stake.
    For a two-character drama that's limited to the claustrophobic confines of a taxi, Daddio travels further than you'd expect.
     Daddio also reminds us of how good an actor Penn can be. He packs a lot into the character of Clark, revealing touches of misogyny, street savvy, humor, and even tenderness. By the end, it's clear that Clark knows he's not as smart as he pretends to be, even though he reads people pretty well after 20 years of dealing with strangers.
      And then there's Penn's face. As he ages, Penn convincingly suggests that Clark has spent too many long days behind the wheel. Life has required that he not only to collect fares but that he pay some himself.
    Returning from a trip to visit her half-sister in Oklahoma, Johnson's character initially exchanges banter with Clark, who correctly guesses that she's mired in an affair with a married man. He's only in it for sex, Clark insists.
     A third conversation, unheard by Clark, emerges in the background as Johnson's character exchanges texts with her horny lover. The texts demonstrate that Clark is right. The man can't wait to meet for sex. Short of that, he wants Johnson’s character to send him a risqué photo of herself to which he'll happily masturbate. 
     It takes time for Clark to let go of the reins that drive the conversation. At first, he talks about himself in ways that are intended to reveal the background from which he draws his conclusion. He’s been married three times; he’s had his share of sexual conquests. Take it from him: He understands what goes on between men and women.
     Eventually, walls topple and the two communicate honestly -- or at least as honestly as they can. Wisely Hall, who wrote the screenplay, doesn't overdo what such a short-lived bond can accomplish.
      Hall was lucky to find actors who could pull this off, and cinematographer Phedan Papamichael dispels the visual inertia that could have come from spending so much time inside a taxi.
     I don't want to oversell Daddio; at times, the story required the suspension of more disbelief than I was willing to surrender, but Johnson and Penn play a duet that makes it well worth tagging along for the ride.

No comments: