Toronto 2023 Review: DADDIO, The Art of Good Conversation Is Alive and Kicking

Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn star in a new film by writer/director Christy Hall.

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Toronto 2023 Review: DADDIO, The Art of Good Conversation Is Alive and Kicking
Do you remember the opening scene of Micheal Mann’s Collateral?
A lawyer gets into a cab,  where she proceeds to tell the cab driver where to go and how to get there. The cabbie gently offers his experience that he knows a way that will get her there just a little faster. They make a bet. A platonic flirt. It is the opener to a fabulous cross-town dialogue between different people who make a connection. It was like a satisfying tiny feature film inside of a great feature film. A moment you would like to linger.
Or, take Jim Jarmusch’s Last Night on Earth, where five different taxi rides in five different cities serve as a mixer for introverts and oddballs who would be unlikely to strike up any kind of conversation with one another -- due to differences in age, or gender, or ethnicity, or class.
These films, and many others, demonstrated there is something about the taxi ride. Something that is interesting, full of possibility, in cinema, in life.
In her directorial debut, Christy Hall, the showrunner of Netflix’s teen supernatural drama I Am Not OK With This, gets this. Completely. She has taken the taxi-connection idea and blown it up to a full feature.
In Daddio, a women walks out of JFK airport, and gets in a cab going to midtown. Her cabbie says two things: That she is his last fare of the night; and, a few moments into the ride, before they are even out of the airport, that it is rare for someone these days to not be on their phone on a late night (or daylight) ride home. This begins a back and forth, a bonding, an exchange of ideas and experiences, and a clement competition between two people who know they will never see each other again, but talk nonetheless.
The two-hander is a showcase for Dakota Johnson, who over the past few years, has grown into a fine actor, initially with Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash in 2015, along with his Suspiria remake a few years later, and recently a supporting part in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s superb The Lost Daughter. It is equally one for Sean Penn, whose career has had him behind the camera over the past decades as much as he is in front of it. He has retained his surly bad-boy reputation, even as he goes to seed into his sixties. 
With his scratchy moustache, and the rest of his face sporting something halfway between a goatee and a beard, his dinged and banged up cab, Penn’s cabbie is a self-proclaimed know it all. But, he argues, one that came by it honestly through a lived experience, a couple of marriages, and a career of active engagement with his passengers. He is the cabbie that talks. The grungy philosopher, albeit far from a blowhard, although it would easy enough to write him off as such at first glance.
His passenger is a little more reserved, but equally observational and sharp. She notes with her glance (to us perhaps?) that it is rather unusual for a cab driver to keep a potted plant in his cupholder, and gently water it while driving. Cognisant of a being a woman late at night getting a ride from a stranger, she does not say anything right away, sizing him up. 
She seems convinced that he is not a monster, and is rather amusing, so they chat about New York, and New Yorkers, before things slide quickly towards gender politics. What makes women and men tick, what they desire, and how they go about getting it.
In our modern, highly social-media, mediated, world, this would be the part where the film would simply end. Both parties would dig in, go for the easy straw-man (and straw-women) talking points, and neither would listen to the other, too busy posting an out-of-context video on Instagram or TikToc. Nobody would risk their world view, only validate it with outrage. End of story.
Not here, though. 
It is nice to see a film about two people, of different ages, backgrounds, genders, and lives, willing to engage with one another, without letting the biases and tribes pinch the flow of the discourse. It is not just talking. It is reacting. These actors both know their way around a good reaction shot.
In a film where you really only have a few shooting angles and cutting strategies, ace cinematographer Phedon Papamichael gets the MVP award for bringing the movements of the eyes, the subtle body language, and the soft glow of the city outside the car windows, into a state of visual pleasure. 
While the mobile phone does come out here and there, to feature banal texts from her boyfriend (and, ugh, a dick pic), it only serves to underscore the platonic connection of ideas and perspectives, sizzling right there between two people present in the moment.
It is easy to get lost in the ebb and flow of Daddio. This would be the perfect film to stumble upon in the now old world of ‘channel surfing.’ The serendipity of finding and hanging out with these two, listening to good conversation, equal parts sparring and connecting.
If there is a trend I have noticed in 2023, it is a real desire in cinema, at least the art-house, to bring the art of engaged conversation back into the mainstream. Fuck the apps. Fuck being in control. Go out and live a little.
If movies are a reaction to the culture of bubbles and echo chambers, and a harbinger of the future rejection of such things, well then, we are probably going to be OK.


  • Christy Hall
  • Christy Hall
  • Dakota Johnson
  • Sean Penn
  • Marcos A. Gonzalez
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CabChristy HallConversationDaddioDakota JohnstonLisa Zeno ChurginNew YorkPhedon PapamichaelSean PennTaxiDakota JohnsonMarcos A. GonzalezDrama

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