Daydreamer (Brahman Turner, 2007)
In the opening sequence of Daydreamer, the first (and, to date, sole) feature from director Brahman Turner, Clinton Roark (Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul) is drunk. Not suave, attractive, James Bond-drunk, either; he’s sloppy, slurring, unable to focus on one point for more than a few sentences. My guess is that Turner and screenwriter Adam Sigal (A Voice in the Dark) meant this to tip the viewer to the movie’s atemporal structure (“atemporal structure” being a highfalutin way of saying “it’s kinda like Memento but different”). And to their credit, it does tip the viewer to a few things. None of them, however, is the movie’s atemporal structure. Fuzzy and unfocused? Check. Rambling and prone to wandering off on tangents? Check. (Though I will admit I’m stretching a little on that one, the movie doesn’t get TOO tangential.) Probably unable to operate heavy machinery? Check.
As we open, Clinton Roark meets Casey Green (The Uninvited‘s Arielle Kebbel) in a dive bar. To Roark’s (and Turner and Sigal’s) credit, he spends a decent amount of that first slurred, almost-unintelligible opening scene—one of the times I was really grateful for Netflix subtitles—wondering what a nice girl like you is doing in a place like this. It’s a valid question; if you’ve seen The Good Heart (and if you haven’t for the love of benzodiazapine why not?), Brian Cox’s bar in that movie looks like the Moulin Rouge compared to this place. That, ultimately, is the film’s great mystery. At least (minor spoiler alert), it is the final question answered at the end of the film. All well and good, and the two of them start a wavering romantic dance that is not helped along in any way by Clinton’s obvious raging alcoholism and the blackouts that accompany same. He’s also not a very nice guy, as indicated by his choice of contemporaries. Two of them, specifically, have a major impact on the movie’s events; Bert (The People I’ve Slept With‘s Rylan Williams), Clinton’s dealer, was somehow involved in a pivotal scene about which Clinton, at the beginning of the film, remembers nothing except a few unanchored flashbacks. And then there is Shane (King of the Ants‘ Chris McKenna), just out of prison. He drops by Clinton’s apartment with an offer Clinton can’t refuse—he’s signed the two of them up to help out on a heist captained by Jackson Stokes (Nod‘s James Wellington in his last feature appearance to date; his next one, The Sighting, is slated for release before the end of 2013 as I write this), an older gentleman from the old neighborhood who, Clinton reminds Shane, the two of them used to make fun of for being, in the vernacular, nuckin’ futz. Shane, however, is desperate for cash, and Clinton, loyal friend that he is, is along for the ride—but the blackouts are getting worse, and how is that going to affect his ability to work up to snuff during the robbery of the year?
There’s a lot going on under the hood, and I think that with a little tightening up on this script, a different stable of actors, and most importantly a director who already had some experience with non-linear narrative, this could have been something very interesting indeed. Well, almost. There’s one other bit that really rubbed me the wrong way, and I can’t really go into it because it is one of the major spoilers for the film—but I got the impression that Sigal meant a particular shot in the climax to relate to us the ultimate reason for Clinton’s blackouts. (You’ll know it because Clinton whispers it too low for you to hear, but when you see it in context, you’ll know exactly what he says.) I haven’t found anyone else who’s actually seen this movie to check my own impressions against anyone else’s, but if I’m right about this, man, I don’t just dislike this movie, I hate it. It’s Lifetime-Original-Movie-level stupidity, if I’m interpreting it right, the kind of Psychology 101 crap that went out about the same time people stopped assuming that all women would faint at the sight of blood. But, like I said, I cannot confirm my impressions are correct, so despite my relative certainty on that point, I’m giving the script the benefit of the doubt and going back to my initial impression of mild annoyance combined with woe at the potential that shines through various nooks and crannies of this movie but never quite got the chance to bloom.
A lot of that, it seems to me, should be laid at the feet of Aaron Paul. I don’t know if he’s gotten any better at this acting thing—I figure, given the popularity of Breaking Bad (which I have never seen), he probably has—but there was not one scene in this movie where I really bought him as a character, and I can’t always blame that on the script (the way I can with Kebbel’s character, who is almost supernatural in her angelic innocence; her character’s costumes should have come complete with halos). This is especially the case considering the number of supporting actors who work better here than Aaron Paul does; McKenna, as usual, makes an excellent yardstick to judge other actors against, and in every scene where they’re onscreen together, McKenna outshines Paul. To a lesser extent, the same thing happens with Wellington, and his character was meant to be overplayed (I am guessing, but it makes sense given the dialogue I referenced above).
Looking at my spreadsheet, I guess I did factor in my interpretation of the key scene referenced two paragraphs ago, since I laid a single star at Daydreamer‘s feet. I’ll add that your mileage may vary, depending on how you interpret that scene, or if your understanding of basic psychology stops at around 1895. *