Film Review – Daddio



Why are cab rides such good stages for character studies? It seems every few years we get a release involving two characters deep in conversation while coasting along a stretch of road. Is it the intimacy – the confined spaces that lend to people opening themselves up to strangers? Is it because of the temporary arrangement, knowing that the passenger and driver will likely never meet again and thus are free to share their secrets without consequence or judgement? In storytelling, the open road has long stood as a metaphor for life. Characters seem more inclined to view themselves under a microscope while the world passes by through a car window. From Collateral (2004), Night on Earth (1991), or Taxi Driver (1976), cab rides have been a staple of the movies almost as long as the movies have been around.

Writer/director Christy Hall’s feature length debut, Daddio (2024) falls right along with this tradition. The premise is set up like a stage play, where the entirety of the action takes place within the taxi – a “twofer” as some have described it. Going from JFK airport to Midtown Manhattan, the narrative features a women called “Girlie” (Dakota Johnson) catching a ride from a cabbie named Clark (Sean Penn). Clark has been a driver for decades, and his countless experiences with customers have turned him into a kind of street wise philosopher. He can pick out certain details about a person simply by how they look and act. He’s also been gifted (or cursed) with no social filter, blurting out crude language without a second thought. Oddly enough, his conversational techniques don’t repulse Girlie, but piques her fascination. And so, the two get into a deep dive discussion about each other to pass the time.


Hall’s writing and direction distinguishes Girlie and Clark as polar opposites. She is a young woman working in the tech industry, he is an older man who drives a taxi and loathes technology. Her work consists of endless 0s and 1s, his is done on a face-to-face level. One of the opening topics involves Clark’s distaste for apps, how no one pays with cash anymore, and how analog processes will soon be replaced by automation. This early ice breaker develops into a back and forth about their personal lives. This largely consists of Clark asking Girlie penetrating questions and her feeling comfortable enough to answer. They talk about everything from their hometowns, their families, sex, gender dynamics, etc. The more they share, the more they understand the other’s point of view. While Girlie and Clark exist in two separate worlds, during this one car ride they meet one another on an equal playing field.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been one to share my deepest darkest hopes, dreams, and fears with someone I don’t know, whether it is a driver, waiter, delivery person, whatever. It is surprising how quickly Girlie opens up to Clark. They swiftly develop a trust even when Clark reveals some of the more explicit parts of his personality (such as his preference for women’s underwear or his honesty about his past affairs). It will take some faith from the audience to believe that these two can communicate in such a raw and vulnerable way. This dynamic is further complicated by the introduction of a third character known only as “L.” L is Girlie’s lover, who speaks to her via text message on her phone. 

As Girlie and Clark are speaking, L sends her sexually graphic texts and pictures. Where Girlie and Clark connect intellectually, L and Girlie connect physically, which is interesting given that we never see his face. It’s a fascinating triangle, even though I’m not so sure it completely works. It’s a little hard to believe that Girlie would engage in a soul-defining interaction with a cabbie while re-evaluating her relationship with her lover at the same time. The narrative ties these two threads with a shattering twist in the second half. I’m still up in the air about the revelation – I don’t know if it fits with the understated tone that is established. I’ll have to ruminate on that a little more. 


Visually, Hall (with cinematographer Phedon Papamichael) creates a quiet, intimate atmosphere inside of the taxi. New York is a big place, filled with people from all walks of life. Yet, the vibe between Girlie and Clark has a confessional-like energy. Lights, vehicles, buildings, and people are seen outside the cab but feel like they exist in a separate universe. Inside the cab, the camerawork captures our characters in constant closeup shots. Because Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson are seated and facing the same direction, the rearview mirror is used liberally, highlighting their eyes as they catch quick glimpses of each other. To break up the monotony of the staging, Hall cleverly inserts a traffic jam that gives Clark a momentary chance to stop driving, turn, and face Girlie. This switch marks the beginning of their relationship deepening.

Above all else, Daddio works because of the acting. Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn bring their A games to their respective roles. They navigate a whole range of emotions – from polite, friendly, confrontational, supportive, to even flirty. Despite their differences in age and background, Johnson and Penn find empathy within their characters. They push each other’s buttons without ever crossing the line. Johnson continues her streak of grounded, sneakily complex performances. She gives Girlie a multi-faceted persona that feels real and natural. And Sean Penn reminds us that he is one of the most talented actors of his generation, inhabiting Clark with a rugged exterior but with a soulful, beating heart underneath.

Daddio is a mature and confident debut for Christy Hall. It argues that one of the most precious things in life is human connection. All the advancements in technology cannot replace the bonds people make when they speak plainly and honestly with one another. When we can see the world from another person’s eyes or walk in their shoes even for a short time, that’s when we realize what it feels like to truly be alive.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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