Dir:Adam Salky. US. 2009. 90 mins.
Addressing serious themes through deceptively campy humour and outrageous sexual antics, Dare manages to revamp teen-movie archetypes. Director Adam Salky and screenwriter David Brind go for shock value in their tale of three students who cope with their final semester of high school by seducing one another, but while not all the filmmakers’ gambits work, this low-budget comedy is thematically daring and increasingly engrossing as it rolls along.
Dare presents a marketing challenge in that the film has no major stars, except for Emmy Rossum who has appeared in The Day After Tomorrow and the film version of The Phantom Of The Opera. That, coupled with the film’s frank sexual themes (including mild scenes of homosexuality), could make this a difficult theatrical proposition, although ancillary markets might be more receptive.
Split into three sections, Dare traces the lives of three high school students. Alexa (Rossum) is tired of being pigeonholed as the good girl and decides to sex up her image. Alexa’s best friend Ben (Ashley Springer) is beginning to wonder if he might be gay. Johnny (Zach Gilford) is the class heartthrob who attracts both Alexa and Ben because of his bad-boy persona. Alexa and Johnny begin a sexual relationship, but soon Ben’s interest in Johnny complicates that romance.
Adapted from a short film which focused on just Ben and Johnny, Dare has been expanded to include the Alexa character, who becomes the catalyst for a series of sexual explorations between the three students. At first, director Adam Salky seems to be settling for broad satire at the expense of these three cookie-cutter archetypes, but once each character ‘dares’ to take his or her own sexual risk, it becomes clear that David Brind’s screenplay is using these funny, titillating exploits to make larger points about the eternal adolescent desire to feel accepted and popular.
Dare craftily dramatises the different power shifts going on among these three characters, and the film’s flamboyant, tawdry style gives the material a juicy vitality. On occasion, Salky allows the bed-hopping to descend into soap-opera theatrics, but for the most part Dare offers a wised-up reconsideration of the standard teen-movie cliches about jocks and cheerleaders that’s as refreshing as it is legitimately sexy.
Taking their cue from Dare’s lascivious overtones, the cast members deliver pert performances which never lose their grounding in recognisable behaviour. Emmy Rossum nicely negotiates Alexa’s self-conscious transition from polite prude to sassy vixen while demonstrating that the uptight young woman still exists within this new persona. Once Ben embraces his homosexuality, Ashley Springer gives his character a seductive innocence that seems to be blossoming right in front of our eyes. And as the hunky Johnny, Zach Gilford possesses an androgynous handsomeness that makes his true romantic desires a teasing mystery which powers much of the film’s forward momentum.
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Mary Jane Skalski
John F. Lyons