A pop-art animation shows a pair of hands, wrapped around an iPhone. On the screen, the thumbs tap out the opening credits. Occasionally, the hands reject incoming calls from Mom. They also accidentally type out things like “props!” and “OMG”. It is a rather embarrassing attempt to seem down with the kids (or is that kidz?) but thankfully, it is also misleading. The film itself has an entirely different tone. ‘Dare’ is not another typical teen-rom-rom about puberty and trying to get laid.
Alexa (Emmy Rossum) is an innocent, hard-working drama student. After failing to impress a big theatre star (Alan Cumming), she is advised to experience new things in order to improve her acting. She decides to seduce her drama partner, Johnny (Zach Gilford), who acts tough to hide his sensitivity. Ben (Ashley Springer), Alexa’s gay best friend, is jealous of their relationship and decides to have a go at Johnny too. Their relationships soon become an uncomfortable and confusing love-triangle.
The film is divided into three parts, each one following a different main character. The more focussed characterisation allows for a more effective display of all the awkwardness and insecurity associated with adolescence. Each of the main characters is given their own screen-time to grow and develop, and as a result there is much more substance.
‘Dare’ is at its strongest when the audience gets to see the characters go about their own lives, without the hassle of narrative development. On their own, the three individual segments of the film could have easily been short, John Hughes-esque films about different teenagers and their approaches to the issues of growing up.
The character of Alexa goes from innocent, uptight bookworm to sexy party girl too quickly, but Rossum plays both ‘versions’ just fine. Springer does a good job portraying Ben’s struggle to deal with his homosexuality, and it is touching to see him find confidence in himself. Gilford gives the most convincing and layered performance of all as Johnny. He channels Marlon Brando and James Dean in his sensitive tough-guy act and it is effective, especially when it becomes apparent that he has severe rejection issues.
The problem with this kind of narrative structure is that there’s too much characterisation for the love-triangle storyline. There is too much attention on each individual personality and not enough on mixing those personalities together. The characters end up changing too quickly, and it is clear that this is merely for the sake of pushing the love story along.
The film’s attempt to be a coming-of-age drama and a love story at the same time backfires. It is too much of a character piece for the love-triangle story not to seem forced. By the time the abrupt ending comes around, one can’t help but feel cheated, or disappointed by the wasted potential.
As a character study ‘Dare’ certainly excels, but as a narrative it is never compelling enough to be remembered. This film is likely to resonate with anybody who has ever been a teenager, but just because it resonates does not guarantee that it will be memorable. For his first feature-length effort, Adam Salky has done a decent job. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with in the future.