Daddio – Tribeca Film Festival 2024 – Film Review

There is nothing quite as iconic on New York’s streets as its yellow Medallion taxis, which have become a tourist attraction in their own right and therefore a focus of the film Daddio! It is an intriguing character study from Christy Hall set within a claustrophobic, moody but insightful environment where the various layers of our defences are unravelled and vulnerabilities laid bare throughout this journey that Girlie (Dakota Johnson) takes within Clark’s (Sean Penn) taxi from JFK airport to Manhattan.

Girlie may not be her real name but it is an anonymous, fitting persona that she adopts, which some may find derivative but others may find empowering as she simultaneously sizes up Clark’s persona during the taxi ride. What ensues is a witty repartee and a cat and mouse game of sorts that may seem similar to the flirty character assessment that James Bond and Vesper undertake aboard a train within Casino Royale. Yet, within Daddio there are protective veneers in effect and a physical barrier between passenger and driver which seems sensual in moments, when placed in close up framing, but also highlights that division between them. We may all have been on taxi rides with an overly enthusiastic chatty driver which Daddio plays on. Usually, the use of a mobile phone serves as a tool to curtail unwanted chatter but in Daddio the emphasis remains on the art of conversation and Girlie’s phone solely reveals hidden aspects of her private life, privy to us as the audience.

Sean Penn as Clark in Daddio

The dynamics of Girlie and Clark’s interaction is based, in part, on director Hall’s memories of the HBO show Taxicab Confessions. Indeed, watching the conversations unfold between Girlie and Clark, which become more and more intimate as the film progresses, resembles the observation of a game of Truth, within a taxi, without many opportunities to escape!  Interestingly, the essence of Daddio is reminiscent of a therapy session – Girlie is initially guarded but Clark seems to be a skilful interviewer subtly probing but also delivering gruff, realistic advice. However, Clark refuses to discuss his own personal matters preferring to keep matters close to his chest, similar to a therapist. As such, it is fascinating being that voyeur within the confines of Clark’s taxi as he undertakes a psychological analysis of Girlie thus penetrating parts of her carefully constructed coping mechanisms and self-deception.

Daddio is very much a love letter to New York as its journey from JFK’s Brooklyn location to Manhattan showcases the varied landscape and familiar city skyline from the perspective of a taxi journey. There is an undoubtedly dreamy aesthetic on display with beautiful cinematography emphasising these night-time city lights within the land of hopes and dreams. The sheer beauty of such scenes will evoke that wonder and awe for the streets of New York à la Lost in Translation’s ability to place Tokyo on a pedestal.

Despite this appeal of the outside world beyond Clark’s taxi, Hall reminds us of the presence of Girlie’s phone and the contact she is messaging. Her reactions to such messages are a focal point as Hall chooses to frame Girlie’s reactions emphasising the flirtatious nature of the text dialogue with Johnson lightly touching her lips and neck in response. Whilst Daddio might have a straightforward structure and premise, it is truly a compelling exercise in the power of suggestion and seduction. Watching the fantastic chemistry unfold between Johnson and Penn is also a delight and Hall has truly struck gold as a first time director!

It is quickly established that Girlie will be taking the taxi to a midtown address within a neighbourhood – Hell’s Kitchen – that is very familiar to Clark. As such, the power dynamics remain vested with Girlie, as the passenger, to decide just how long her journey with Clark will last and how much information to divulge. Daddio is, therefore, intoxicating viewing as Girlie and Clark pit themselves against each other within a battle of words and revelations. The film retains an old-fashioned dimension with its reliance on the well written screenplay to convey emotions within these stellar performances from Penn and Johnson.

Daddio will appeal to theatre goers as its structure replicates a play – it is essentially a two hander chamber piece involving Johnson and Penn. Unsurprisingly, Hall’s background is in theatre. Hall has created an effective, mysterious psychological character study in Daddio that will generally keep audiences on tenterhooks but may ultimately prove to be too slow paced.

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