Daddio an impressive directorial debut, Family Affair a lighthearted look at May-December romance

Penn and Johnson take us for a ride in Daddio

It’s been said that sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger than a friend. Writer/director Christy Hall takes that notion and runs with it in her impressive debut Daddio, an intriguing two-hander that’s essentially a prolonged confessional between a pair of troubled souls in the throes of denial. It’s been a long night and Clark (Sean Penn) is ready to pack it in after taking one more fare. It serves to be a fateful decision as his passenger is a tired, troubled woman with a lot on her mind. Never revealing her name, the hack ends up referring to her as Girlie (Dakota Johnson), a moniker he comes to realize does her a disservice.

Obviously tired, she’s in no mood for talking, preoccupied with a boyfriend who’s sexting her, an act she quietly disdains. However, Clark is a bit lonely, as well as student of human nature, and effortlessly pulls her into a conversation. Innocuous at first, their talk gradually becomes more intimate, subjects broached that far exceed the boundaries of polite conversation. Yet, there’s a willingness between the two – particularly on Girlie’s part – as if each needs to unburden themselves and who better to do so than with someone you’re not emotionally invested with?

A very convenient traffic jam allows Clark to probe a bit deeper and his sense Girlie wants to talk proves right. Before all is said and done, she reveals that she’s involved with an older, married man, that she had a troubled childhood, which included a neglectful father, and she’s just returned from Oklahoma, where she went to visit her half-sister to settle some familial issues.

The advice Clark gives her is of the dime-store variety, the sort of broad, obvious tropes Lucy Van Pelt would likely provide. Yet, the sincerity with which Penn delivers them helps negate their cliched nature. That he’s willing to divulge some of his own troubles as well as past problems lends credence to his advice and makes the quick bond these two form seem plausible.

It comes as no surprise that Hall had originally conceived this as a stage play and that most of this was shot on a soundstage seems ironic. Yet, this is apt as Daddio’s focus is the connection made by these two strangers and the empathy that results through such a meeting. Social isolation has grown as technology has taken over our lives, and Hall does us a great service by reminding us of the importance of forming true interpersonal connections in this impressive, deft debut. In theaters.

Cast elevates familiar Affair

Coming hot on the heels of Anne Hathaway’s The Idea of You is the similarly plotted A Family Affair, a more lighthearted look at a May-December romance between a celebrity and someone outside his normal sphere. The difference between the two? Director Richard LaGravenese applies a deft touch that allows the humor of the situation to emerge, his strong cast walking the tightrope between comedy and drama to create a breezy concoction that winds up being far better than it has a right to be.

The young superstar in question is Chris Cole (Zac Efron), an action movie icon with little range but loads of charisma. Protected by his handlers and happy in his bubble of self-isolation, he’s content to churn out multi-million-dollar pablum for the masses, raking in the big bucks and taking in all of the ego-stroking his sycophants can dole out.

However, his world is rocked when he meets Brooke Harwood (Nicole Kidman), a beautiful, intelligent writer who has no idea who Cole is and treats him as just a regular Joe. He’s immediately taken by her unassuming nature, straight-forward approach and obvious beauty. Yet, there’s a problem, and it’s a big one – Brooke happens to be the mother of his forever-put-upon assistant Zara (Joey King), who loathes him.

It's a simple premise but screenwriter Carrie Solomon approaches it with intelligence, and more importantly, wit. The banter between the three principals is sharp, while elements of screwball comedy are sprinkled throughout. Yet, it’s the depth with which the characters are examined that helps elevate this above the standard comedy.

Time is taken to examine what makes each in the trio tick and the issues they harbor make sense and are relatable. Insecurities plague them all. Cole is certain no one can see past his screen persona; Brooke believes there’s no way she can be everything he needs, and Zara is convinced there’s no way she can escape her mother’s shadow.  These issues are dealt with sincerely, none of them used as fodder for cheap pathos.

As a result, we come to care for each of them and the conclusion seems earned rather than conveniently tacked on. Of course, none of this would work without the veteran trio. Kidman does what she does, Efron reminds us that he’s more than just a hunk and King shows a previously unseen talent for light comedy. In the end, it’s their combined efforts that help us overcome any misgivings we might have about Affair’s out-there-premise. Streaming on Netflix.

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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