Daddio (2024)

Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn play strangers crossing paths in “Daddio.”

Hail ‘Daddio’: Taxi-set drama offers intriguing fare

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had the good fortune to hop into a cab operated by someone as sage as the guy ferrying Dakota Johnson in the two-handed drama “Daddio.” But if I had, I’m sure he’d be a lot like Sean Penn’s Clark, a grizzled, twice-married Plato colorfully expounding on male-female relationships.

Lucky for Johnson, that’s exactly whose taxi her nameless singleton steps into after deplaning at New York’s JFK. Before reaching her destination in Midtown, Clark will elicit intimate details about her harrowing Midwest upbringing and the sorry state of her current romantic affairs. Tears, confessions and a plethora of sapient advice ensue – all for $53, plus tolls and gratuity. Who needs a shrink when Clark is available at less than half the price?

If you’re detecting a note of cynicism, it’s because little of what transpires in “Daddio” rings plausible. And for about the first 12 minutes, I was ready to be let off at the next corner. But against my better instincts, resistance waned somewhere between the terminal and Belt Parkway. Two people I generally wouldn’t like – the bleached-blonde Manhattan neophyte and the know-it-all Brooklyn hack – began to endear themselves through sheer star power.

Just because I was hooked doesn’t mean I didn’t cringe whenever the dialogue – penned by rookie director Christy Hall – ventured too close to on the nose. Real people simply don’t talk this freely, particularly when the subject matter is so deeply personal and laced with crude expletives. It’s also a little too convenient that during the inevitable awkward silences Johnson’s “Girlie,” as Clark refers to her, fills the time sexting with a horny lover requesting real-time photos of her cooch. I truly admire the phantom man’s patience, given the gaps in time between their randy exchanges.

Then there’s the obvious claustrophobia from being jammed inside a tiny Yellow Cab for more than 90 minutes. To counteract, Hall leans heavily on DP Phedon Papamichael (“Nebraska”), who consistently concocts clever ways to expand the scope by way of shifting camera angles and inserting establishing shots of the cab weaving through traffic. And what looks grander than the Manhattan skyline at night? At one point, Papamichael renders it even more gorgeous than imaginable.

It’s almost as beautiful as Johnson’s expressive blue eyes, conveying every emotion, from exasperation to resignation and finally, hope. I particularly admired a lovely scene where amid a massive traffic jam, Johnson’s gaze falls on the face of an adorable little girl in an adjacent vehicle. It lasts less than a minute but is enough to reveal the melancholy of a woman whose life is woefully unfulfilled.

Penn earns his big moment, too, as Girlie turns the tables and persuades Clark to open up as fully as she has. I rarely see Penn choke up on screen. Always the tough guy, he seldom gets the opportunity. But when Clark comes clean about how much he grieves the loss of his first wife, Penn’s lips begin to quiver and his eyes fill with tears in a losing fight against his emotions. It’s an instant so human, so relatable that you wish Penn had stretched his range more often to portray similarly vulnerable characters. I never thought I’d say it, but in “Daddio,” the title a reference to Girlie’s attraction to father figures, Penn’s a real pussycat, funny, self-deprecating and genuinely empathetic.

He’s such a mensch, you absolutely believe a woman as closely guarded as Girlie would bare her soul to him as if she were on the couch instead of the backseat of his yellow chariot. The doctor-patient dynamic is purely intentional on the part of Hall, who says she drew her inspiration from watching HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions” on the sly as a little girl. And that’s exactly the vibe “Daddio” generates, albeit with better actors and sharper, more focused writing.

At the heart of Hall’s movie is that quintessential Big Apple connection: the cabbie and the fare, chatting more like old friends than strangers. It’s fleeting and transactional, but it facilitates trust, due in no small part to the anonymity that comes with residing in a city of 8 million people. “Daddio” perfectly taps into such chance meetings and illustrates how 90 minutes in the back of a cab can stimulate more self-examination than 10 years in therapy.

During the ride, Girlie and Clark playfully engage in a game of one-upping each other with their respective sob stories. At first, it comes across as silly and contrived. But the exchanges prove profound as the film progresses, a non-melancholic approach to reminding us that pain and disappointment are as much a part of life as joy and happiness.

More so, it demonstrates our oneness, whether you’re a wealthy Oklahoma transplant like Girlie, or an unrestrained Hell’s Kitchen survivor like Clark. We’re all essentially chasing the same elusive ideal. Perhaps that’s why brief human interactions like these can prove so meaningful. They are rare and they are special. And as the movie reveals, sometimes these serendipitous encounters can forever change how two diverse people see themselves. It’s a generous tip from which we all can profit.

Movie review


Rated: Not rated

Cast: Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn

Director: Christy Hall

Writer: Christy Hall

Runtime: 98 minutes

Where: In theaters June 28

Grade: B

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