Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn display their magnetism and acting range over the course of a cab ride through New York City full of conversational — and power — shifts.
From its beginning, cinema has both explored and exploited screen relationships between younger women and older men — nearly always from the men's perspective. Daddio offers a refreshing turn.
Dakota Johnson plays a woman who steps into a New York cab at the airport, driven by a man played by Sean Penn. She's clearly preoccupied and just wants to get home. He's a curbside philosopher. Immediately, he engages her in conversation which starts in small talk then gets bigger, deeper, and riskier as he steers her to her destination.
Daddio nails its high-wire premise — it's very hard to sustain a feature film with only two characters — but the bigger surprise is how well it handles the power-shifts back and forth between this contemporary woman in her thirties and the proudly old-school man in his sixties. There's no hint of this becoming a romantic or sexual relationship. It's just that the more they talk, the more they connect with their need to talk.
Christy Hall, co-creator of the series I Am Not Okay With This, writes and directs with a palpable sense of both the defenses and the vulnerabilities that a woman might carry with her into a New York taxi. And she's assembled a remarkable team of collaborators. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (Sideways, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) shows his singular talent for capturing emotion on human faces. Composer Dickon Hinchcliffe (Winter's Bone, The Lost Daughter) adds subtle but critical shades.
Ultimately, though, this is a stunning showcase for Johnson and Penn. Both display their range and power as actors. And both remind us of that extra kick of magnetism that movie stars bring to each close-up.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: mature themes, sexual content, nudity