By Lisa Schwarzbaum
November 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Donnie Darko: Dale Robinette
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The title character in Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly’s gangly, shape-shifting psychodrama is succinctly named: ”Donnie” evokes all the American innocence we expect in a Spielbergian suburban universe, circa 1988. ”Darko” represents all that infests the tortured head of this particular sullen boy, a schizophrenic teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) flailing and failing to find relief amid the ”normal” crises of adolescence. The trouble Donnie causes, then, is partly about being a regular misfit, and partly about hearing voices in his head from a man-size rabbit with a twisted-mask face. (This bad bunny is nothing like the invisible hopper from ”Harvey.”) Kelly, the 26-year-old writer-director of this excitingly original indie vision, shares more artistically with Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson than he does with Spielberg or John Hughes, but the point is, he’s out on his own here. He swings big — with flair. The terrific ensemble cast includes Mary McDonnell as Donnie’s mother, Maggie Gyllenhaal (sibling of Jake) as his sister, the serenely grave Jena Malone as his girlfriend, and, just right in the role of a cool lit teacher, Drew Barrymore, who was also hip to produce such a marvelous, messed-up antidote to the sitcom alienation of ”American Beauty.”

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