Made in 2001, Donnie Darko stars Jake Guyllenhall, Mary McDonell, Maggie Guyllenhall, Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore. The film bypassed theaters and went straight to video because certain aspects of it resembled 9-11, which coincided with its release.
Donnie Darko is one of those films you just have to allow to unfold, kind of like The Sixth Sense. As when I watched The Sixth Sense the first time, I kept trying to make judgments on characters' actions, but Lucy had to tell me, "Just wait." The main character is a troubled teen boy, so it was hard to separate myself from the events at first. Empathy for the worried mother almost eclipsed my ability to follow the action.
I am not even going to try to explain this film to you, first because I don't want to spoil it for you and second because after reading the Wikipedia's attempt to explain it, I realize it sort of defies simple explanation. Like quantum physics, the plot of Donnie Darko can tie your brain into a pretzel. After you watch it, you have to go over the whole movie to put it all into perspective.
Try not to miss anything; for example, don't work on crocheting your afghan while you watch. Don't answer the phone or try to make dinner. You will need the details so you can argue about them with your movie-buddy afterward.
Another thing that makes Donnie Darko intriguing is how it manages to elude genre.
Genre is a social thing, a set of societal expectations that an artist attempts to fulfill. Genre tells us viewers exactly how to interpret features in a work of art like a film.
This is what makes spoofs work; you take the recognizable aspects of genre and exaggerate them. For example, in Scary Movie, the fleeing girl, killer hot on her heels, sees weapons lying on the table: a gun, a knife and a banana. We laugh with rueful recognition when she grabs the banana, because characters in horror flicks always make the dumbest decisions ever.
Likewise, we know to bring tissues to dramas with us, to suspend our disbelief when watching sci-fi, and that in action films no mommies with strollers will be ambling through downtown when the cops chase the bad guys at high speed through the city. And so on.
But what is Donnie Darko? Drama, comedy, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi? After watching it, I still can't quite answer that without qualification.
And in a time when we're sick unto death of Hollywood's formulaic attempts to lift dollars from our pockets, it's kind of nice to be surprised.