It’s amazing to think what a difference 5 years and an extra 76 minutes can make. Adam Salky’s Dare (2009) originally began life as a 16 minute short before evolving into its final feature form. It tells the tale of awkward drama wannabe Alexa (Emmy Rossum), closet gay lighting technician Ben (Ashley Springer) and standard “hottie” (Zach Gilford) who, while working on a school production of A Street Car Named Desire, fall into a bizarre love triangle that tests the boundaries of friendship, lust and forbidden love.
Described as a “John Hughes-esque story”, Dare is unfortunately devoid of engaging characters, clever and believable dialogue and/or a narrative that draws an audience in on any sort of emotional level. The film we get instead is boring, badly written, and so self indulgent that it doesn’t seem to know where the line between social commentary and plain pomposity lies.
None of Dare’s characters are engaging. To start with, Alexa is described as a “prissy drama student”, which she isn’t – she’s an awfully written uptight loser who just wants to be an actress. Then there is Ben, the most obvious, yet apparently “in the closet”, gay character I have ever witnessed in a film. It could just be that he is the best friend of “Little Miss Not So Prissy” Alexa that instantly tells us as an audience that he is, in fact, the stereotypical gay friend, but when he finally comes out to her she simply replies with “I know” – as do we. Finally there is Johnny, a confused character in more ways than one. He is described as a “loner”; yet he has friends; and all the girls love him. If people love you and you have friends, you are probably not a loner.
From what I can gather, the original short version of Dare did very well across the festival circuit which doesn’t come as much of a shock. Any film that openly portrays gay relationships, be it between two men or two women, is going to get some kind of response, which I find staggering in 2011. We no longer live in an archaic society where men kissing other men on screen is taboo. We live in a world where a film about two gay cowboys was not only nominated for a ‘Best Picture’ Oscar, but very nearly won. Gay relationships in film are not taboo anymore. So why do festivals still pander to this sort of award baiting nonsense as if it will draw in some form controversy?
Dare is ultimately a confused mess that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. If you want a good teen drama that is about coming to terms with sexuality or not knowing who you are, watch Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) or Nicholas Hytner’s The History Boys (2006). Unfortunately for Dare, what worked for 16 minutes just doesn’t stretch out for an hour and a half.