Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday's Ways... To Cast Your Cult Movie

JA from MNPP here, once again playing off a recurring feature I do back at my home blog. This time around, my Thursday's Ways Not To Die series, which, well, every Thursday I take a gander at a movie death scene that tickles my fancy. Yesterday we gandered at Donnie Darko's demise, but since Donnie Darko is a movie I never get tired of talking about, I figured I'd carry over the discussion beyond that death scene to other aspects of the film. Namely, its casting.

But first, let us recall that Donnie Darko was a big ol' flop when it was released. There was a time, hard to believe but true, pre-Brokeback, that the name Jake Gyllenhaal, if it was greeted with anything besides a "Gesundheit," it would've just been "You mean that kid from Bubble Boy?" Maybe they knew October Sky... but I'd hazard the conjecture that anyone that tells you that they remembered Jake's turn as Billy Crystal's son in City Slickers before Donnie Darko came out is a big fat liar. Liar-people! Anyway, Jake was a nobody. The movie was filled with nobodies! Stands-With-Fist and Swayze... that dude from ER. Nobodies! Drew Barrymore did her small role just to get the film financing (reason enough for why, as many crappy rom-coms as she can cram under her belt, I will still never turn my back on Drew).

Yet even in his first film, Darko's director Richard Kelly was already displaying a Tarantino-esque cleverness with his casting decisions. His next film, Southland Tales, would basically implode and explode at the same time from Kelly's "Throw a week's worth of VH1 programming into a blender and call it a movie" aesthetic, but the scope was kept small enough, with just the right amount of quirk, in Donnie Darko for it to feel just right.

Don't believe me? Let's look at the cast, Where Are They Now? style!

Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko - Obviously the big kahuna casting here. Jake's gone on to bat his giant blue eyes into the hearts and souls and obsessive blog-postings of millions. Oscar nominations and determined chins ahoy. Last Seen/Current Project: He was last (not-)seen in Rendition opposite previously mentioned determined chin; next he's in Jim Sheridan's Brothers with Tobey Maguire, and he's currently sporting head-mange for the filming of Disney's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Elizabeth Darko – I’ll leave the “Who’s the better Gyllen-actor?” argument for the Gyllen-family dinner table. Suffice it to say, Mags has gone on to prove herself a fine actress in a slew of films, from Secretary to Sherrybaby. Last Seen/Current Project: Funny you should ask! I do believe she’s in a movie coming out today, actually. Something about a cave-dwelling rodent-man with wings. Like The Descent, only popcornier.

Mary McDonnell as Rose Darko – McDonnell had a fine career pre-Darko, but found the role of her lifetime three years after with President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica. No, the shit-bag Emmys didn’t notice, but do they ever? Last Seen/Current Project: Finishing up BSG’s final season, and blowing all of our frakking minds in the process.

Beth Grant as Kitty Farmer – Richard Kelly knew what he was doing when he gave what is arguably the film’s most memorable line to this spark-plug of a character actress – he was creating a classic moment for the ages. Cuz I don’t know about you, but I too really doubt that Rose Darko was fully committed to Sparkle Motion. Last Seen/Current Project: Well she was accused of single-handedly ruining the Coen Bros' No Country For Old Men with her fussy old lady performance in the final act (which I call bullshit on; she was no more ridiciulous than any of the character actors they hired to play hick-locals; she’s just the most familiar face); other than that… more fussy old-lady performances, I’m sure. And the world is richer for them!

Patrick Swayze as Jim Cunningham – Probably the most brilliant casting move on Kelly’s part, Swayze’s last memorable film role – and the one I will remember him as for eternity – was in Darko with basement-dwelling pedo Jim Cunningham. Last Seen/Current Project: Sadness with Swayze’s recent Cancer announcement, but he got hired for a sitcom so I think he must be doing reasonably alright (enough to be insured for a show, at least).

Noah Wyle as Ken Monnitoff – You know, I’ve seen Donnie Darko probably ten times, maybe more. And I still forget Wyle’s in it every time. Likewise, his career. Last Seen/Current Project: Well, he’s been blowing up small screens nationwide as the Boob Tube’s version of Indiana Jones in the Librarian series of movies for TNT. Other than that wonderment, looks like he’s playing former Sec. of Commerce Don Evans in Oliver Stone’s W.

Jena Malone as Gretchen Ross – Donnie’s true love. Or like, really. Their romance was appropriately, given their age, in miniature. But he did give it all up for her. Last Seen/Current Project: I guess I have to trumpet her performance earlier this year in the horror movie The Ruins every time I’m guesting for Nathaniel, but there it is: you can see her give a fantastic performance in The Ruins. Out on DVD now.

Katherine Ross as Dr. Thurman – Kelly’s other real casting coup, Ross was of course a massive star in the 70’s... who kinda disappeared. And she’s gone and done it again since Darko... she's only been in three things since.

Drew Barrymore as Karen Pomeroy – Cellar door, bitches. Last Seen/Current Project: Could we actually have Drew as an Oscar nominee this year due to her role in Grey Gardens? I’ll leave that to y’all Oscar prognosticators who know better than I. Drew’s lifelong Hollywood royalty, though, and we’re going to be watching her grow old with us.

Seth Rogen as Ricky Danforth – What’s that? Yes, Seth Rogen is in this movie. He’s the lesser-half of the bullies that, well, bully Donnie through the movie. Last Seen/Current Project: Well, he met Judd Apatow, actually. And… nothing came of it. It’s sad, really. A Hollywood tragedy. The bums.

Daveigh Chase as Samantha Darko – Wow, this is the second Daveigh mention on The Film Experience today! She’s an up-and-comer! No really, she appears to be an up-and-comer. Immediately post-Darko she voiced the little girls in Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away, and crawled out of television sets in The Ring, American-style.

Last Seen/Current Project: I don’t watch Big Love – anybody want to send me the DVDs I’ll be all over them – but she’s supposedly pretty terrific as Harry Dean Stanton’s child bride. I mean, to be fair… how could anyone not rock that role? She’s also attached as the lead in the inexplicable Donnie Darko sequel, S. Darko - co-starring Nomi Malone, of course - focusing on Chase’s character in college, which will be just like Jaws IV: The Revenge, only instead of a shark with a grudge following Chief Brody’s wife to the Caribbean we’ll have a rabbit named Frank playing Beer Pong. And Nomi Malone. Wonders never cease, ya know?


Who's your favorite featured Darko player?
I cannot choose, or my brains will fissure.



my brian won't fissure by choosing but it's still a difficult choice.

methinks i shall go with President Laura Rosly--- I mean Mrs. Darko because Mary McDonnell just gets to me. *sniffle* she loves her son but god, he really is a freak, isn't he?

those blue peepers are barely hiding some crazy ass psychological shitstorm

Pax Romano said...

Same here, Rose Darko (Mary McDonnell) so underplays her role - and that final scene with her standing on the lawn, smoking a cigarette with a look of total devastation on her face until she sees Gretchen and they both wave at each other ... man, that always gets me.

J.D. said...

I, like, pretty much am Donnie.

That said, Go Roslin!

Billy D said...

Rose Darko, what a fantastic character...holding that glass of wine, ugh perfection.

"Do you even know who Graham Greene is?"

(Gotta disagree with you and say that the best line of the movie might be...)

"I think we have all seen Bonanza."

Anonymous said...

i would go straight for Mary McDonnell.

okay, no i wouldn't, BUT i would do absolutely anything she asked me to do.


Barry said...

Drew Barrymore because she rocked her small role out here like she she rocked her small role out in Scream.

Anonymous said...

OMG BETH GRANT! oscar worthy.

elgringo said...

This is one of my favorite posts I've read in a long time.

Anonymous said...

I am on the Beth Grant team. She is vital to the instability of the real world that makes everything else work.

Mary McDonnell, she was decent and had a few amazingly moments, but I didn't love her as an actress until Battlestar.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Mary McDonnell does wonderful things with her hands in this movie. They're all I can watch when she's on-screen. Look at them next time you're watching, how fluid her movements are.

Katharine Ross is great, an understated performance as she grapples with the knowledge of the impossible being quite true.

Drew Barrymore stole my heart. Patrick Swayze's best performance ever, in my mind.

But as far as favorite: Beth Grant. Hilarious, pathetic, a little sad. That lost shot of her during the "Mad World" sequence is perfect. Just a hand to her mouth as she wakes, reflects...ooh. Too often is she relegated to nameless or one-scene characters. Beth Grant, I champion thee!

Anonymous said...

How can you not go with Jake G. He IS Donnie Darko and does a damn great job in this movie. Totally excellent performances.