Off Topic: A Dare you’re supposed to be

In a world where cell phones were not smart, when the New York City skyline had just lost two iconic parallels, and Peter Jennings and Paul Newman’s presence still graced media outlets, I met an aspiring filmmaker named Adam Salky in college.  He was two years ahead of me, and though we never got to be close friends, we’d kept in touch over the years.  He’s done some amazing things with his life post-bachelor’s degree, one of which is a film called Dare (2009). Based on a short film that he and a film school classmate made, it takes an observant seat in the nebulous and fickle world of teenage self-identity.

From the scholastically inclined to the quietly amiable to the ostensibly heteronormative, Alexa (Emmy Rossum), Ben (Ashley Springer), and Johnny (Zach Gilford) lead a pretty predictable high school existence.  Like the majority of films that dig into the ways in which characters see and define themselves, Dare does not allow its three nubile players to cling to the safety of a planned out life.  A senior year that could’ve come and gone without too much drama becomes texturally mind-altering when harsh criticism (delivered by the terrifically acerbic Alan Cumming) pushes Alexa’s meek exterior to slough off, unveiling new desires and temperaments.  Ben does not share his childhood friend’s enthusiasm for such awakenings…not until he is able to empathize with Alexa.  The prize of both of their eyes: Johnny.

I shan’t be discussing any more plot details, but I would like to toss around a few reactions I had as I was watching the film.  Dare devotes a section to each of three main characters (each portion accompanied by subtly different camerawork).  Ben’s story was my favorite.  While I thought it was appropriate–perfect even–that the film begins and ends with the question of Alexa’s identity, there were times in the first half of the film where I wasn’t sufficiently convinced that her personality could be so changed.  She didn’t switch from ugly brain to pretty brain.  She went from nonsexual-geeky-garbed-but-still-pretty-brain to sexual-sociable-pretty-brain.  Transforming on two levels might be too much.  The final scene, however, silenced my skepticism.  How much coloring outside the lines or tuning in to alternative wavelengths can one really do for good?  Are any of these characters as different as their last year of high school would have them remember?  Could Alexa, Ben, and Johnny live happily ever after if only she were willing to reach out one more notch?

If I were to place Dare into a group of like-spirited films, I’d put it next to Better Luck Tomorrow (Justin Lin, 2002), Down in the Valley (David Jacobson, 2005), and Cake Eaters (Mary Stuart Masterson, 2007).  These films examine a complementary range of themes and emotions and invest in what characters feel in addition to what they think.  Composition is key in this aspect and Salky gets it right nearly every time.


Two of Switchfoot’s songs kept playing in my head as I watched Salky’s film.  This one is the obvious selection; the other one is equally, if not more, applicable.

They tell you where you need to go
They tell you when you’ll need to leave
They tell you what you need to know
They tell you who you need to be

But everything inside you know
There’s more than what you’ve heard
There’s so much more than empty conversations
Filled with empty words

And you’re on fire
When He’s near you
You’re on fire
When He speaks
You’re on fire
Burning at these mysteries

Give me one more time around
Give me one more chance to see
Give me everything You are
Give me one more chance to be… (near You)

Cause everything inside me looks like
Everything I hate
You are the hope I have for change
You are the only chance I’ll take

When I’m on fire
When You’re near me
I’m on fire
When You speak
And I’m on fire
Burning at these mysteries
These mysteries…

I’m standing on the edge of me [x3]
I’m standing on the edge of everything I’ve never been before.
And i’ve been standing on the edge of me
Standing on the edge

And I’m on fire
When You’re near me
I’m on fire
When You speak
(Yea) I’m on fire
Burning at these mysteries… these mysteries… these mysteries
Ah you’re the mystery
You’re the mystery

Pix creds: IMDB

Netflix or Amazon my friend’s film!  Read my Film Threat review of Dare.

4 thoughts on “Off Topic: A Dare you’re supposed to be

  1. Scott Mendelson

    If I may, does Alan Cummings have anything other than a first act cameo in this? I can easily convince the spouse to watch this one with me based on his appearance, but she’s still smarting from me tricking her into watching The Dark Knight using Cillian Murphy as bait.

  2. Phil

    Quand je lus les mots “Better Luck Tomorrow” à votre essai, je me souvins vaguement avoir vu ce film il y a quelques années. Je me rappelle que ce film a été excellente.

    Les films comme “Better Luck Tomorrow” (et “Dare”) nous rappellent que la réalisation de films de qualité n’est pas un art perdu aux USA.

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      Les films comme “Better Luck Tomorrow” (et “Dare”) nous rappellent que la réalisation de films de qualité n’est pas un art perdu aux USA.

      L’espoir vive.


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