12 January 2006 | bastard_wisher
Well-meaning but ultimately falls a bit short
"Dandelion" is one of those films that seems like a good idea, mostly because of other films it reminds you of. In this case, the films it brings to mind are "Donnie Darko", "American Beauty", and particularly David Gordon Green's brilliant "All the Real Girls". While director Mark Milgard, along with his two (!) other screenwriters, obviously had their hearts in the right place, the end results leave a lot to be desired.
Cinematographer Tim Orr (who works on all of David Gordon Green's films), does a typically great job at capturing beautiful, Malick-like landscapes, but Milgard blatantly lacks the poetic touch needed to find an emotionally resonant story within the picturesque environment. Instead, all he manages to come up with is an almost embarrassingly by-the-numbers coming-of-age story. The plot itself would not be such a problem if he had infused it with convincing characters or memorable dialogue, but alas he does not. The characters are wince-inducingly one-dimensional (the angry dad, the repressed alcoholic mom, the "troubled" girl next door, and of course the introverted, gloomy protagonist). I found myself all but begging the filmmakers to allow for some nuance to creep in, to allow the characters some kind of depth, but no. None of the characters are allowed to escape their stereotype for even a minute. This is particularly sad in the case of the lead Vincent Kartheiser, who did good work in Larry Clark's "Another Day in Paradise", and seemed able to deliver here too if he had been allowed to not play up to his morose stereotype of a character. Taryn Manning, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Although of course the filmmakers didn't help, her performance was still notably lacking.
At times the film showed promise. In it's best moments, it recalled the great classic coming-of-age film "Over the Edge", as well as David Gordon Green's work. But it is actually that last comparison which ultimately proves what a flawed film "Dandelion" truly is. Where David Gordon Green's films always seem to unfold naturally, with no forced plot, "Dandelion" was full of contrived, obvious events. The biggest problem is that Milgard seems so obviously emotionally manipulative. Whereas David Gordon Green's films hit brilliant, unforced, emotional moments, "Dandelion" seemed intent on forcing you what to feel in the most obvious, unsubtle way. This contrivance ultimately amounted to the film more closely resembling achingly self-aware trendfests like "Garden State" rather than the Green or Terrence Malick it seemed to be attempting. In this respect, the dialogue was often particularly problematic as well.
All and all, "Dandelion" is the kind of film I desperately want to root for, that I want to see succeed, yet it stubbornly insists on shooting itself in the foot at every opportunity it gets.