Paul Dano is one of the best young actors working in Hollywood at the moment. I first saw him in the excellent Little Miss Sunshine as the misanthropic angst ridden teen Dwayne. Since then he starred opposite Daniel Day Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood in the duel roles of Paul and Eli Sunday. He was last seen on Irish screen's in last year's Looper with Joseph Gordon Levitt. Today's flick sees him playing the aimless Joby Taylor, an indie rocker with a young daughter he has never met in So Yong Kim's subdued drama.
Joby is the misanthropic lead singer of a band that appears to be struggling for survival though this is only hinted at. We meet him as he drives through the night after a gig to meet his lawyer to finalise his divorce. His lawyer Fred, played by Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame, is equally unsure of himself in the world but in a much different way. He lives at home with his mother and some of the funniest scenes involve the interplay between the mismatched pair. Joby is on the point of signing the divorce papers when he realises that he is signing away his right to see his daughter Ellen. Though he has never met Ellen, played by a precocious Shaylena Mandigo, he tries to make contact and create a bond. The scenes shared between the two are touching and filled with hope of a better relationship. Yet time and again Joby is unable to deal with his own problems. Ultimately he wants to do what is best for his daughter regardless of what that might mean for him. Will he continue to run away or will he face up to his responsibilities?
There is a sparse quality to the snow filled scenery of the small town in which Joby finds himself and its empty loneliness reflects his mood. It is obvious he is not a bad guy just immature and unable to function outside of his own little world as a touring musician. It is obvious that Joby felt that the years he put in as an aspiring rock star in LA would pay off and that as he drifts toward his late 20's it may not happen. At one point he justifies his absence to Ellen by saying that he couldn't give up his record deal. He now has a second chance whether he will take it or not is thrust of the film.
While it is an interesting story to tell at first, the film is ultimately not fully satisfying because by the end Joby has made no real progress as a human being. The world is filled with bad parents why should Joby's tale be any more compelling?