A woman credited only as Girlie (Dakota Johnson) exits a plane and walks out to a cab, telling the coordinator that she needs to go to midtown Manhattan. She ends up in the back seat of a vehicle driven by Clark (Sean Penn), a tough guy who wishes he had a better name like Vinny; one that would reflect his personality more accurately. He can tell that something is making her emotional, and we see her texting with someone who desperately wants to see her tonight. Or at least get her to send some dirty pics. Who is the guy? Where is his passenger coming from? What’s on her mind?
All of these questions are answered on the way to midtown as this pair learns things about each other, mostly based on the complex dynamic between women and men. Clark instructs her on his beliefs about what men want from mistresses as opposed to wives. She reveals she’s the former, and with an older man, but she’s starting to question her role and what she wants from this guy.
“Daddio” has modest stakes, and avoids melodrama, thanks in large part to another subtle turn from Johnson, who keeps just enough of this character’s secrets in her internal monologue. She’s great, as she almost always is lately. Penn struggles a bit more to avoid the tropes of the “wise cabbie,” but he’s certainly not bad, and it’s nice to see him more prominent on the acting landscape than he has been lately (he’s also, briefly but memorably, in “Gonzo Girl”). Ultimately, “Daddio” is a fine movie, the kind of thing that sometimes produces overreactions at fests, but has me hoping more for what everyone involved does next than thinking too much about it on its own.
Finally, a unique child centers Warwick Thornton’s deeply personal “A New Boy,” which played in a Cannes sidebar earlier this year. Thornton tells a tale from a dark chapter of his country’s history, when Australia kidnapped Aboriginal children and did everything that they could to destroy their heritage and identity. His film is gorgeous throughout but loses a bit of its power in a back half that seems uncertain of the story it’s telling. Thornton reportedly was inspired to make “The New Boy” from his personal experiences as a youth, and films like that sometimes lose something in translation from memory/emotion to the big screen. Still, he shoots the landscapes of Australia as well as anyone, and a typically excellent score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis helps make this a consistently interesting experience.