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Review: Daddio (2023)

Review: Daddio (2023)

One of the most reliable cultural barometers of the last few years should have been the fall of Sean Penn. The shorthand for the worst species of liberal dwelling in Hollywood, Penn had, by 2022, also become a purveyor of “toxic masculinity.” But Dakota Johnson doesn’t care about such things. Penn was the perfect guy to spend 99 minutes in a cab with for her new film, Daddio, which finds the actress most famous for Fifty Shades of Grey again stepping into the role of producer on a passion project.

On paper, Daddio seems like a disaster. An actor half the country hates plays a cantankerous cabbie who engages in a real-time conversation with the world’s most vilified nepo baby while driving from JFK to Manhattan–all in the hands of debut writer/director Christy Hall. Although it constantly threatens to devolve into film school cliches and its actors’ tabloid excesses, the movie shakes off such burdens with a quiet beauty rooted in conversation. 

The easy way out for a film like this is to cast Johnson in the role of girlboss feminist showing Penn’s working stiff the error of his deplorable ways. Instead, Daddio may mark the end of an era. Hall displays a knack for perfectly capturing male locker room talk–one that reserves judgment in favor of an anthropological dedication to accuracy. It’s a film that takes up the responsibility of showing that two disparate people separated by educational, class, and borough-related barriers have the ability to understand each other because they face the same problems from the dominion of Big Tech to their commodification in a city with a dual identity. 

Self-imposed limitations aside, Daddio never succumbs to the pitfalls of its conceit. Hall’s dedication to shot design and color schemes even makes it one of the more cinematic films in recent memory despite its brazen talkiness. It’s a movie that deserves to be seen in theaters because it's the kind of challenging work that so often gets shipped straight to streaming if it ever gets made at all.

Daddio opens in theaters Friday with select special previews tonight.