Dialogue Driven ‘Daddio’ is a Standout Film

Synopsis: A woman taking a cab ride from JFK engages in a conversation with the taxi driver about the important relationships in their lives.
Director: Christy Hall
Starring: Dakota Johnson. Sean Penn

In September 2023, at the Toronto International Film Festival, a writer and filmmaker named Christy Hall took the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre stage to introduce her film, Daddio. What nobody knew at the time was that they were about to embark on a fantastic cinematic experience.

Starring Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn, the film is simple yet brilliant. Penn is a cab driver named Clark, who picks up his last fare of the night (Johnson). He drives her from JFK to Midtown Manhattan as she has just returned from Oklahoma. If you Google that route, you will see the duration of the trip, with some extra traffic, takes approximately 100 minutes, the length of this film.

Nowadays, silence often fills the space between the driver and passenger during cab rides, or one of them is on their phone for the duration of the trip (hopefully the passenger), but in this film, Clark engages his passenger in conversation, which she is receptive to. Over the course of this ride, they are able to get to know each other a little bit. With the sense that they will probably never see each other again they shed many of their insecurities and are honest with each other about past and present experiences.

Set almost exclusively in the confines of the taxicab, Clark and his fare embark on a unique journey. The film is an exploration of the human connection and conversation. Hall strips away the façade people have in their day-to-day lives and presents the cabbie and his passenger, warts and all.

The film plays out like something originally intended for the stage, and it was, but instead, it was made into a feature.

Johnson, renowned for her roles in big-budget movies like the Fifty Shades of Grey series and Madame Web, also excels at delivering strong performances in smaller-budget films. With this film, she shows that her outstanding role in Cha Cha Real Smooth wasn’t a fluke.

For his part, two-time Academy Award winner Sean Penn is very strong in this movie. Penn’s Clark is a long-time cabbie, and his skill is reading people. His character is very observant and picks up on subtle nuances. His passenger is impressed at what he is able to deduce with little knowledge of her, but for her part, Johnson’s character also shows she is someone who, while not always making the best decisions, can handle herself in the big city.

For a debut feature film, Daddio is a triumph. It serves as a sharp reminder that a multi-hundred-million-dollar budget is not needed to tell a compelling story.

Thanks to Hall’s insightful and sensitive direction, the audience quickly becomes engaged with the characters who are presented as authentic and raw with complex lived experiences yet still able to be fun and engaging.

While the cinematography captures the essence of New York City at night, the audience is transfixed on the discussion taking place inside the cab.

Daddio is a film that can easily go under the radar, but it shouldn’t. It’s a standout for 2024 and a very entertaining movie.

Grade: B+

Watch the movie trailer: