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Daddio Film Review: The Payoff of Vulnerability

Dakota Johnson smiles sitting in the back of a cab in the film Daddio

Writer-director Christy Hall’s heartfelt directorial debut feture Daddio lets Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn’s charisma ride shotgun.

Director: Christy Hall
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 101′
Tribeca Premiere: June 10, 2024
Release Date: June 28, 2024

The concept behind Christy Hall’s new film Daddio, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, is fairly simple but wildly risky. The entire story is told in the confines of a New York City yellow cab, with only two characters visible throughout the film’s runtime.

The success of Daddio relies entirely on the chemistry between its lone two actors, Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn. Their performances, however, allow this gamble of a filmmaking decision to pay off. What comes out of the plethora of conversations had within this cab ride is a deeply nuanced and meaningful story about the power of vulnerability and the comfort we can find within strangers, no matter how different from us they may appear. 

Daddio opens on a girl, only referred to as “Girlie” (Dakota Johnson, of Am I Okay?) throughout the film, exiting the JFK airport in New York City. She gets on the line to grab a yellow cab home and fate puts her in the cab of Clark (Sean Penn, of Superpower), a New York native who has been a cab driver for over 20 years. Girlie has just returned from a two-week trip to visit her half-sister in Oklahoma. The trip has clearly taken a toll on her and the repeated texts from a mysterious man are seemingly taking an even bigger one. In an effort to free herself from whatever may be going on in her internal world, she actively avoids going on her phone and instead sits in the back seat of the taxi staring at the lights of the city on the horizon.  

Clark takes note of this decision and strikes up a conversation about how impressed he is that she’s not on her phone. These two quickly find they match each other in wits and soon begin to bond over their experiences as New Yorkers and, as their time progresses, the afflictions of the human condition. They discuss everything from Clark’s disgruntled attitude towards the world turning its back on humans in favor of tech-operated alternatives to Girlie’s relationship and familial woes. While the two don’t always see eye-to-eye, they always have the respect to let one another state their view and don’t mind challenging each other to defend their takes.   

Daddio is as stripped down of a film as you can get. It’s driven purely by its characters and there are no safety nets for the film to fall back on if its leads don’t deliver in their performances. Luckily, Johnson and Penn are pure magic. Johnson is the girl who can handle herself, but not intimacy, just fine, and Penn is the man who’s been around the block but doesn’t necessarily have all the answers. 

Sean Penn looks up with a yellow cab behind him in a still from Daddio
Daddio (Sony Pictures Classics / 2024 Tribeca Film Festival)

Both Clark and Girlie are the “New York tough” type. They don’t take any sh*t from anybody and they don’t get caught up in any bullshit life tries to throw at them. Their attitudes and life experiences have given them hard exteriors and made it nearly impossible for them to let anyone in. Throughout this ride, however, they are able to go deep with one another in a way that circumvents all of their walls and allows them to get to the core of their identities.

It’s a strange thing that, even though Girlie has just spent two weeks with her step-sister, who is her only real family, she is for some reason able to be more vulnerable with Clark than she has ever been with her blood relatives. Daddio highlights the comfort that comes in the form of strangers. With strangers, there will be no consequences to your actions and while you may have the chance to not say anything real, more often than not you will choose to open up. 

Girlie and Clark are by no means freely purging their feelings and deepest secrets to one another in an attempt to clear their consciences. Their conversations start off slowly with one confession for another of equal weight and then progresses at a steady pace. They are so used to being tough all the time that seeing someone who matches them on some level finally allows them to take down their walls. They might be the most honest they’ve ever been in their lives in this cab with one another. 

The blocking of the film really lends to this aspect of the storytelling in a discrete yet impactful way. While they are confined to the same space, they rarely are ever facing one another. There’s a certain safety that comes from this seating arrangement. These are two people who have kept everyone in their lives at a comfortable distance. With the positions, they are in the majority of the film, that symbolic distance is physically represented and they are able to move one another emotionally at whichever pace they so choose.  

It’s not that they do not have people in their lives they can open up and be vulnerable with, but rarely, if ever, will they have the opportunity to talk about their deepest regrets in an environment as judgement-free as this. While neither Clark nor Girlie are bad people, they’ve done things in their lives they are not proud of. They are able to give one another a level of grace that people they are deeply connected to may not be able to award them. It’s in the vulnerability of their confessions to one another that they are finally able to set themselves free from the judgment they harbor towards themselves.

Hall’s Daddio is an impressive debut feature. It is funny and touching and crass and moving and above all else a bold way to dive into a career as a director. It allows the performances of Johnson and Penn to shine, with its writing giving them the ammunition to do so effortlessly. If this is a taste of what is to come from Hall’s career, she is definitely a director to keep an eye out for. 

Daddio premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival on June 10-16 and will be released in US theaters on June 28, 2024. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival!

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