An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret.An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret.An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret.
Dan is a smart, fundamentally decent man leading a life of quiet desperation. His ex-gf, Rachel (Tina Holmes), tells him that some people get better, and Dan is adamant in his response. Not him. Change is not for him. To another girl, he explains how he tried rehab, but it doesn't work for him. And yet Dan's desire for change is shown in his lessons to his students. He constantly describes opposites - up and down, left and right - and talks about change. From one breath to your next breath, change has happened. And yet Dan's affliction just provides more and more of the same.
The film is all about Ryan Gosling, who gives us a complete portrait of his character. You just can't take your eyes off of this guy. Whether babbling under the influence or talking with real passion to his students or just sitting quietly saying nothing at all, Gosling shows us a man, who has a lot to give, but is held down by his affliction. The out-of-nowhere flashes of humour and the many moments of vulnerability completely endear us to Dan. His friendship with Drey arouses moral instincts in him that brings his self-loathing and helplessness more to the surface. We understand Dan, and our understanding of him is mirrored in the eyes of all the supporting characters, played out by a perfect ensemble cast. So much is conveyed just in the briefest character exchanges.
So the film succeeds with strong performances and making sure all the pieces fit together with respect and care. And yet the finished puzzle isn't really as gripping as it should be. Maybe because we've been through this material before, or maybe because this is a film that lives through its many small moments and observations. With tense character-driven material like this, I was sort of expecting more flash and meltdown, but this isn't that sort of film. This is a film, where you can admire the focus, commitment, and quality, but its a slow burn - not a big jolt to the system.
- Jun 23, 2008