Review: ‘Daddio’ (2024), starring Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn

July 3, 2024

by Carla Hay

Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn in “Daddio” (Photo by Phedon Papamichael/Sony Pictures Classics)


Directed by Christy Hall

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “Daddio” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person and one Latino briefly seen in the film) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a taxi ride from JFK Airport to her Manhattan home, a computer programmer and her taxi driver share intimate personal secrets and sometimes have conflicting opinions about love and sexual relationships.

Culture Audience: “Daddio” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn and don’t mind watching a talkative movie that takes place almost entirely during a taxi ride.

Sean Penn in “Daddio” (Photo by Phedon Papamichael/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Daddio” is a bit predictable, but viewers can enjoy the good acting and the snappy banter between an emotionally guarded taxi passenger and her jaded driver. The HBO docuseries “Taxicab Confessions” is more entertaining than this scripted dramatic movie. “Daddio” isn’t completely boring and it has its share of compelling moments. However, this verbose film might disappoint some viewers who are expecting “Daddio” to have more action than just people talking during a taxi ride.

Written and directed by Christy Hall, “Daddio” is Hall’s feature-film directorial debut and could have easily been a stage play. Cinematically, it works only if viewers want to get a better visual sense of the traffic that is near the taxi as it travels from John F. Kennedy Airport to Manhattan’s Midtown West area. Although the movie takes place in New York City, “Daddio” was actually filmed in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Daddio” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival, Canadian premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, and New York premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

“Daddio” begins with a brief scene of an unnamed woman in her 30s getting a taxi at JFK Airport, with some assistance from an unnamed taxi line attendant (played by Marcos A. Gonzalez), who is only one of three people in the movie who is heard speaking lines of dialogue. In the movie’s end credits, the taxi passenger is listed as Girlie (played by Dakota Johnson), so she will be referred to as Girlie in the review. Fairly early on in the movie, Girlie’s taxi driver tells her his first name—Clark (played by Sean Penn)—and he eventually reveals a lot more personal things about himself.

As soon as Girlie gets in the taxi and tells Clark what her destination address is (she’s gong to 44th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues), he’s already correctly deduced several things about her: She lives at that address, because she’s sure of where she’s going and doesn’t show all the typical indications of being a visitor or tourist. She’s also lived or traveled in New York City long enough to know to get in the airport’s official taxi line for yellow cabs, instead of getting a ride from phony taxi drivers who lurk near the airport arrivals area to solicit unsuspecting passengers.

Girlie also knows that there’s a flat rate fee for taxi rides going to and from JFK Airport and Manhattan. She mentions this when the taxi predictably gets stuck in a traffic jam, and she says she knows the traffic jam won’t affect the final price for the taxi ride. It takes about 40 to 45 minutes at the most to go from JFK Airport to the Midtown West/Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton neighborhood where Girlie is going—if traffic is good. If viewers know in advance that this entire 100-minute movie is about two people taking during a taxi ride for trip that usually takes 40 to 45 minutes, then it’s easy to predict there will be a section of the movie where there’s a traffic jam, in order to make “Daddio” a feature-length film instead of a short film.

Girlie is quiet, reserved and polite when she gets in the taxi. Clark is talkative, inquisitive and a little bit flirtatious with Girlie. She flirts a little back, but in a way that’s coy, not overt. Even if Clark hadn’t introduced himself, his name and taxi photo ID are displayed in the car, so his willingness to tell his name to Girlie is an example of how he makes an effort to be open with her—even if the way he talks to her is a very intrusive and annoying way for a taxi driver to talk to a passenger.

By contrast, Girlie doesn’t want to tell Clark her name. He often has to ask her several times to tell basic things about herself that he wants to know, such as what her hometown is. Girlie is a lot more patient than many people would be with Clark’s persistent line of questioning. He’s nosy, very intuitive, and seems to sense that Girlie has issues that she might want to talk about with a stranger. Clark might not be “book smart,” but he’s “street smart.”

Clark makes several statements indicating that he’s “old school” and has some resentment and distrust of new technology. At the beginning of the ride, Clark starts ranting to Girlie about how money has become more digital: “It ain’t nothing but an idea, just little numbers on the screen.” He says sarcastically of the Internet cloud where banking information is stored: “One day, that cloud is going to open up and pour acid rain all over our faces.”

Clark tells Girlie that he appreciates how she didn’t immediately tune him out by getting on her phone when she got in the car. Clark likes that she was willing to actually look at him while he was talking to her. However, Girlie is on her phone quite a bit during the entire taxi ride. She’s getting sexually explicit text messages from her unnamed lover, who begs to come over to her place and see her because he’s horny and “I need your pink.” During this taxi ride, Girlie only replies by text.

Even though Girlie tells her lover that she’s in a taxi, her lover asks her to take a photo of her vagina right then and there and send him the photo. (She doesn’t do this request.) His messages are crude and demanding but also pathetic in their desperation.

In her conversations with Clark, Girlie tries to make it look like she’s independent and doesn’t believe in traditional gender roles. For example, she’s very defensive/proud about being a computer programmer, a job held mostly by men. However, even though she wants to project a “liberated feminist” image, it’s obvious that Girlie and her unnamed lover are in a co-dependent relationship where he’s the dominant partner in a relationship which is all about stereotypical gender roles.

Clark notices that Girlie is on the phone and correctly guesses that she’s texting an intimate partner. Clark also correctly guesses that Girlie’s lover is a married father, and she’s having a secret affair with him. Clark also quickly figures out that Girlie has some “daddy issues” because he also correctly guesses that Girlie’s married lover makes him call her some type of “daddy” name during sex talk. Girlie’s nickname for her married lover is actually Daddio.

These revelations about Girlie’s sex life open up a whole different type of conversation between Clark and Girlie. Clark (who is a bachelor with two marriages that ended in divorce) tells her that he has plenty of experience being a philanderer, so he knows exactly what her married lover thinks of her. Girlie is defiant and skeptical because she doesn’t think she’s a typical “mistress.” Clark warns her not to believe that her relationship with this married man is about love from the man’s perspective.

Girlie reveals a few other things about herself, after much prying and verbal prodding from Clark. For example, Girlie was at JFK Airport after taking a trip to her small hometown of Gage, Oklahoma, where she was visiting relatives. Girlie mentions she has a half-sister whom she calls a “kind of a bitch” because this half-sister (who’s 11 years older than Girlie) used to insult Girl about the size of Girlie’s ankles.

“Daddio” is going for realism in much of its dialogue, so there is quite a bit of small talk before the conversations go into more deeply personal topics. Clark opens up about his relationship history, while Girlie reveals a few more secrets about herself. They sometimes argue because of the way that Clark tends to define relationships in terms of how he thinks men and women are supposed to act, whereas Girlie has the more open-minded view that not all men think alike and not all women think alike.

Johnson and Penn have played these types of characters in several other movies before—Johnson as the soft-spoken leading lady with sexual secrets; Penn as the curmudgeonly know-it-all—so “Daddio” is not much of an acting stretch for either Johnson or Penn. “Daddio” is not an outstanding movie, but it’s not terrible either. Depending on your perspective of Girlie and Clark, you’ll feel the time spent with these two characters was entirely too long, too short, or just about right.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Daddio” in select U.S. cinemas on June 28, 2024.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix