DADDIO (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

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A popular social media thread lately involves anecdotes where a stranger once did or said something so touching that the person writing still thinks about them. Those brief yet memorable connections came to mind while watching writer-director Christy Hall’s debut feature Daddio, where a New York city cabbie and his last fare of the night form an unexpectedly candid rapport.

Cab drivers and passengers occupy an oddly intimate space for such a practical transaction. Riding alone in a taxi, especially late at night, creates the feeling of being ensconced in your own little bubble, with that barrier between front and back seats as fluid as both parties allow. Debuting at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival, Daddio uses that big-city experience to take viewers on a thoughtful, quiet journey with an affecting end.

Unfolding largely in real time over one hour and forty-one minutes, Daddio follows an unnamed woman (Dakota Johnson, also a producer here) headed home to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan from JFK International Airport in Queens. In no mood to chat at first, she soon warms up to the driver (Sean Penn, Asphalt City), a crusty guy ranting about how paying by apps and credit cards means no one throws you a little extra anymore.

His name is Clark, and while he’s says he’s no sleuth like Sherlock Holmes, driving a cab for decades gives him a decent sense about people. He knows the woman is a local by the way she states her address, among other things. He appreciates that she asked him his name and doesn’t mind his salty language, dropping some of her own. She looks like she can handle herself, he says.

“I like to think so,” she answers. Meanwhile, she texts a boyfriend that she’s off the plane, weighing how to answer his raunchy messages. Clark at least asks about her trip to Oklahoma to visit family.

One of the smart touches in Daddio is how the talky script, which made the Black List in 2017, doles out character details through such observations. Hall, a playwright who co-created the Netflix series I Am Not Okay with This, creates a natural ebb and flow to the conversation, which becomes personal on both sides once the cab gets stuck in traffic because of a car wreck. The two dodge and parry, sharing thoughts about relationships and other issues that inspire each to think about what they once had and where their lives might be headed.

Although Clark calls his passenger “girlie,” Penn finds the kindness within the driver’s rough edges, giving this behind-the-wheel philosopher an honest tone of lived experience more than a patronizing attitude. Johnson, who was practically somnambulant in this year’s Madame Web, is sly and pensive here, matching him gracefully. Clark doesn’t tell her character anything she hasn’t thought already, but Johnson shows that speaking about it is a whole other matter, subtly evaluating her choices much like the young mom she played in 2002’s Cha Cha Real Smooth.

Shooting largely in closeups and medium shots, Hall with cinematographer Phedon Papamichel and editor Lisa Zeno Churgin show the trust building between these characters. Glances go from eyes in rearview mirrors to the open Plexiglas barrier, then shots where the barrier isn’t seen at all. Ambient sound and lighting create a warm, safe space in the cab interior, heightening the tenuous bond through the passing city lights and the glow across the actors’ faces.

Hall has said in press notes that the “delicious” narratives of the Emmy-winning 1990s series Taxicab Confessions inspired Daddio, along with many a cab ride. Undeniably a New York story, Daddio also is a universal one about finding meaning and connection in unlikely places, showing life can be a surprising trip.

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.