Movie Review: Donnie Darko (2001)

In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.

Title: Donnie Darko
Release Date: October 26, 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Production Company: Flower Films

I caught the re-release of this movie as Donnie Darko: The Directors Cut in the theaters last year, and finally got around to watching the original version on DVD last week. I am drawn into this movie because it has some interesting parallels to my own life. The movie is set in 1988 and Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a teenage boy the same age I was in 1988 living in a suburban town much like my own and attending a somewhat progressive Catholic high school, again much like my own. I however never had visions of a six-foot demonic bunny rabbit predicting the end of the world nor had a jet airplane engine fall through the roof of my house.

This movie is brilliant because it works on so many levels. It’s a science fiction movie about time travel and alternate universes. It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy trying to find his place. It’s a religious-philosophical movie about the search for God. It’s a period piece which is honest about what the 80’s were really like, as opposed the hackneyed stereotypes about that decade (see “13 Going on 30”). It has a great soundtrack too.

The cast in this movie is brilliant, especially Jake Gyllenhaal’s sister Maggie who plays Donnie’s older sister, Jena Malone who plays Donnie’s girlfriend, Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osbourne who play Donnie’s parents, Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle who play sympathetic teachers, Patrick Swayze as a creepy motivational speaker, and Katharine Ross as Donnie’s therapist. The DVD has several cut scenes, several of which made it into the Director’s Cut. There is much controversy over which version is better some saying the Director’s Cut fleshes out the cryptic parts of the movie, while others prefer the pureness of the original version. I like them both, but would recommend watching the original version first.

Rating: *****

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