Daddio – a compelling and intimate journey through the streets of New York City.

Johnson and Penn in Daddio (Sony Pictures Classics)

‘Daddio,’ directed by Christy Hall and starring Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn, takes us on a compelling and intimate journey through the streets of New York City. The film’s ability to capture the essence of the city, from the bustling streets to the iconic yellow taxis, creates a sense of familiarity that resonates with the audience, transcending its seemingly simple premise. The film opens at JFK airport, where a young woman (played by Johnson) jumps into the backseat of a yellow taxi driven by Clark (Penn). What unfolds is a captivating conversation that takes them and the audience on an unexpectedly profound ride to Manhattan.

Hall’s high-concept approach might be “’Locke’ meets ‘Collateral’ without the killing,” but ‘Daddio’ surpasses these comparisons with its unique charm and depth. The entire film hinges on the evolving dialogue between Johnson’s unnamed character and Clark, a seasoned cabbie with a penchant for philosophical musings. Their interaction, filled with witty banter and profound insights, creates a sense of anticipation and intrigue, keeping the audience engaged and curious. The late-night drive, prolonged by construction, traffic, and even a fender bender, allows for an extensive exploration of their personalities and lives.

Johnson and Penn, an unlikely pairing, exhibit a stunning on-screen chemistry. With her sharp wit and spirited demeanor, Johnson perfectly complements Penn’s grizzled, gregarious character. Their interplay, marked by a genuine connection, fosters a sense of empathy and investment in the audience. The respectful, albeit occasionally contentious, dynamic between the characters adds depth and authenticity to their relationship. Clark’s character is a quintessential New York cabbie and brutally honest—brimming with well-rehearsed speeches and theories, yet grounded by his human flaws. Meanwhile, Johnson’s character juggles modern distractions, including an ongoing text exchange with a persistent suitor, which adds layers to her on-screen persona.

The film navigates the complexities of its characters with surgical precision. Clark’s stories about his life, his marriages, and his philosophies on men and women are interwoven with Johnson’s reflections on her own experiences and the current state of her life. The discussions are authentic and resonate with broader themes of identity, connection, and the human condition.

‘Daddio’ does not shy away from its theatrical roots. Hall’s background as a playwright is evident in the heightened language and the intensity of the emotions portrayed. The film embraces its stage-play-on-wheels format, inviting viewers into a specific artistic space where characters open up more than they might in real life. This contrivance is a strength rather than a flaw, as it allows for a deep dive into the characters’ souls within the confined space of a taxi.

Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography deserves special mention. The film’s depiction of New York City at night is both dark and beautiful, enhancing the movie’s intimate atmosphere. The technical execution within a brief 16-day shooting schedule adds to the film’s authenticity and visual appeal.

While the film may run a bit longer than necessary and occasionally suffers from overwritten dialogue, the performances of Johnson and Penn keep it grounded and compelling. Johnson’s ability to convey complex emotions through subtle expressions and Penn’s charismatic yet flawed portrayal of Clark make for a memorable cinematic experience.

‘Daddio’ is a thought-provoking and emotionally rich film that transforms a simple taxi ride into a journey of self-discovery and human connection. With its insightful writing, masterful acting, and genuine heart, it is a ride worth taking. Because of the notable performances, it will likely be considered among the best movies of the year. ‘Daddio’ opens in theatres June 28.

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