About 20 minutes into the movie Dare, which played at the Castro Theatre on Saturday night as part of the Frameline33 Film Festival, I had an uneasy feeling that the movie makers had completely ripped-off the beloved, but short-lived television series, My So Called Life.
The female lead Alexa (played by Emmy Rossum) is intrigued by the brooding bad boy Johnny (Zach Gilford, of Friday Night Lights). Her best friend is a curly-haired nerd boy named Ben (Ashley Springer) who appears at first to have a crush on her, and she also has a more wild and popular female friend with long blond hair (just like Claire Danes did in My So Called Life.) I’m normally a big fan of high school movies, but I was starting to worry that the coming-of-age movie may be so played out that people are just ripping each other off wholesale.
Happily, Dare takes a turn for the darker and becomes a really interesting and lovely high school movie. The teenagers, who appear to be one-dimensional archetypes at first glance, are revealed as complex, intense, and confused young adults at a seminal moment in their maturation. (I’m going to try to remember that next time I’m on the Muni with all those loud Mission High students who spit sunflower seed shells all over the seats.)
Dare is based on a short film of the same name which played at Frameline four years ago. The movie toys with viewer expectations, and in the end it’s not the over-achieving Alexa or the nerdy Ben who’s in the process of coming out that captures our attention, but the good-looking and privileged Johnny.
During the Q&A, the writer, David Brind talked about how the lower castes in high school represented by the characters Alexa and Ben, often don’t realize that they can have an emotional impact on the Johnnys of the world who seem populate the upper echelons of high school society and appear unflappable.
Emmy Rossum convincingly plays the plain girl turned high-school-hottie by letting down her hair and putting on some boots, but in real life, she looked outright movie star pretty. Zach Gilford (brooding Johnny) who also attended the screening, looked untouchably handsome on screen but completely normal in person. And a lot shorter than you would think. I wanted to pick him up, tuck him in my pocket and take him home.