Daddio (2024)

Written by:
Toba Singer
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“The birth control pill gave women freedom from fear of sex leading to pregnancy or shotgun marriage, but the egalitarian treatment of women as compared to men has lagged behind that scientific advance.” Comment in a Women’s Rights workshop

“Girlie” (Dakota Johnson) steps into a yellow cab after arriving at an unnamed New York airport, reciting her destination’s cross streets to the cabbie (Sean Penn.)  After refreshing her lipstick and checking her phone messages, the familiar awkward silence between two strangers fills the moving vehicle. After a decent interval, Clark, the cabbie, pitches his opening salvo that Girlie is a “real” New Yorker. Bemused, she acknowledges his cat’s paw and bursts of conversation follow. They probe the trajectory from Girlie’s childhood in a small Oklahoma town to the present moment’s taxi ride. Clark cross-examines Girlie with the artfulness of a professional who has put in a quarter century behind the wheel. The guardedness with which she responds goes deeper than what one would expect from the typical female 30-something New York computer programmer. Her facial expressions belie her hesitancy, cautioned by an overlay of sadness. The closeups are just short of startling. She stares at her phone, looks away, and then reaches for it. It is clogged with urgent messages from a lover who begs for compromising selfies so that he can meet his insistent puerile needs. Hers do not correspond to his. Her expressions change from self-protective to frustrated. In the interim, an accident stops traffic just as the exchange with Clark reaches an intimate goalpost. He opens the window between the front and back seats, turns toward Girlie, and looks her in the eye. He is very sure that he knows more about her than she knows about herself. They bet on who will win the narrative contest. She begins to keep score. As the conversation continues, we see the interpolation of traded wisdom, efforts to throw off fading rationalizations, and recoil from the jibes that aim for tender places.

It is tempting to compare “Daddio” to the 1981 Louis Malle conversation piece, “My Dinner With André,” where two old theatre colleagues engage in a verbose joust over dinner to compare life values, cross-referencing philosophical abstractions and cultural appraisals with the high and low points of their history as friends. An acclaimed film starring Wallace Shawn and André Gregory, it was well worth the watch, but it trended toward the tedious at times. Daddio is tedium-free. Nocturnal pans of the lit highways, bridges, and tunnels that connect New York burroughs, wide streets scarred with construction digs, planks, and concrete barricades, separate beats in the conversation. Hall has taken proprietary care in creating a story quilt that grows more labyrinthine as flat-rate mileage accrues.

In “Daddio,” the story of the Gen-X woman has found its authentic voice. It’s the riposte to the shrill drill of #metoo, the meritocratic glass ceiling melodramas, and the pot-shot “Karen” caricatures. Penn delivers one of his finest characterizations as he awakens Clark from his hubris to discover that there’s still more to learn from the arena where the battle of the sexes settles scores. Girlie, drawn alternatively delicately and bravely by Johnson, finds that her most profound needs can be better met in a one-time face-to-face exchange with Penn’s avuncular Clark than a wearying routine of double-messaged clicks with a part-time lover.
Toba Singer

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