September 27, 2023



“Daddio’ Review: Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn Deliver Impressive Performances in a Taxi-Centric Two-Person Show

“Daddio’ Review: Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn Deliver Impressive Performances in a Taxi-Centric Two-Person Show

In the debut film by writer-director Christy Hall, the storyline revolves around a woman and her chauffeur, as they gradually share their inner selves during the duration of a taxi journey.

In her modest yet gratifying directorial debut, Christy Hall brings “Daddio” to life as a captivating two-character showcase featuring Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson, with the latter also earning recognition for her role as a producer in this unconventional project.

The movie commences with a young woman (played by Johnson) entering a taxi at JFK airport. Her cab driver (Penn) finds solace in her willingness to engage in conversation instead of being glued to her cell phone. From that point onward, the entire film unfolds within the confines of the taxi as both characters gradually lower their emotional barriers, unveiling secrets they might not confide in many others in their lives. While the notion of strangers sharing secrets is not a novel concept in the world of drama, Hall originally conceived “Daddio” as a play. However, its transition to the cinematic medium proves to be highly effective, thanks to the exceptional performances delivered by both actors and the skillful direction by Hall.

Before too long, Johnson’s character retrieves her cell phone, where she’s bombarded with explicit messages from a man craving intimate photos. Penn swiftly deduces that her texting companion is a married individual, and he soon surmises that this man is notably older than Johnson—a hint also echoed by the film’s title. Johnson is returning from a visit with her elder half-sister in Oklahoma, which unravels the narrative of a distant father. Painful revelations about an absent mother and a history of abuse by her sister also come to light.

As Penn listens with the compassionate wisdom of someone who’s likely heard countless stories during numerous cab journeys, he opens up about his own solitude and frustrations. However, there’s no doubt that Johnson’s troubled past takes center stage in the story. Penn almost seems to play the role of a therapist, skillfully posing the right questions to coax out her history and encouraging her to reflect on the decisions she’s made in her life.

While Johnson is perhaps best recognized for her role in the Fifty Shades trilogy, she has delivered commendable performances in other films like The Lost Daughter and Cha Cha Real Smooth. Nevertheless, her portrayal in this film is something of a revelation. She effortlessly commands the screen in close-up shots and exudes both strength and profound pain. Penn, who has displayed versatility in his previous roles, has portrayed tough characters but also showcased humor and warmth in his Oscar-winning performance in Milk. In this film, he taps into a similar charm, serving as the perfect counterpoint to Johnson. During their conversation, Penn mentions his two failed marriages and reminisces about poignant moments in his first marriage. When Johnson inquires if he misses his wife, he responds with a simple “Sometimes.” Penn’s facial expression eloquently conveys the depth of emotion that a skilled actor can convey with just a single word.

It’s worth noting the considerable physical challenges involved in filming nearly the entire movie within the confines of a taxi. According to Hall, the majority of the film was actually shot in a studio, where a taxi set was meticulously constructed on the stage. The fact that the film feels so authentic is a testament not only to the director’s skill but also to the expertise of the seasoned cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (known for works like “Nebraska” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7”) and the creative touch of production designer Kristi Zea (recognized for her work on “The Departed” and “The Silence of the Lambs”). While there are only a handful of exterior shots in the movie, one of them depicts the aftermath of a harrowing accident that significantly delays the protagonists’ journey. This scene holds a profound relevance, serving as a reminder of life’s fragility and emphasizing the significance of meaningful connections in a world often fraught with danger.

By the time Johnson reaches her destination in Manhattan, it’s evident that the two main characters have indeed forged a deep connection. The film’s conclusion leaves their futures uncertain, but the exceptional performances by the two leads and the delicate touch of a talented emerging director ensure that the audience will continue contemplating these characters long after the journey comes to an end.

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Ralph Calaway