Recently, I had the chance to interview Mike Goldbach, the writer/director of the recently released film, Daydream Nation. The film, which is out on DVD, stars Kat Dennings as the sultry Caroline Wexler entering a dangerous love triangle with her teacher and classmate. The indie film, Goldbach’s feature debut, portrays a seedier side of high school that most people aren’t aware of. If you’re interested, read on. BUT, keep note, there are spoilers!!! You should probably read my review of the film first, too.
1. The title of the film, Daydream Nation, is a very obvious reference to Sonic Youth. It seems like there is always that one band or album we have that defines various periods of life. How important was it for you to make this homage to Sonic Youth and in what way did the album affect or inspire the film?
Daydream Nation was one of those albums that meant a lot to me in high school. It’s noisy, dissonant, violent, atonal — and then suddenly it will veer and become ethereal and quite beautiful. But at its heart it’s still pop music, albeit an artier version of pop. So I wanted to make a film that captured that feeling of bi-polar teenage romanticism. I sort of think of this whole movie as pop art, in a way…or fan art. Like when people make home made posters as tributes to their favorite bands. In my pre-internet high school years, listening to something like Daydream Nation was a way of connecting to a much more expansive and interesting universe, but at the same time it still spoke to exactly how I was feeling.
2. Kat Dennings shows a different, more mature side in the film. Her role as Caroline Wexler is very seductive and sultry, which runs counter to the typical quirky, sarcastic characters she is known for playing. Was that a conscious thought when you cast her to play Caroline?
Absolutely. One thing I love about Kat is that her intelligence and complexity always shines through — so whether she’s playing a quirky character or someone more seductive, you always feel like she just might be the smartest person in the room. And that’s definitely how I saw the character of Caroline. Even when she’s wrong, which is often, you feel she’s an intelligent person making poor choices.
3. Building more on Caroline, she was a bit of a jerk, definitely selfish, felt like she deserved more in life, and had no regard for others until after the denouement. Did you intentionally set out to create such an unlikable character, or did I just take too much offense to her?
I’m not sure. I mean, there are so many films where the male protagonist is kind of jerky and we take that to be a sign of complexity or soul, so I thought it would be interesting to show the kind of teenage girl who is just a mess. In her mind, she’s playing a role for the world, trying this persona on for size, seeing what happens if you try to live like there’s no consequences. And yeah, that’s insanely selfish and hurtful and, well…teenaged. Not entirely unheard of.
In most movies the female lead starts off innocent, becomes corrupt, and ends somewhere in the middle — still pure, but wiser for having taken the journey. That’s the standard arc. But we were more interested in the idea of someone who starts off making huge mistakes and appears to be hyper-mature and almost invulnerable, but as things progress we see the chinks in her armor.
But that age is all about trying on different personas.
I remember in high school I tried to act like Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back for about half a day before I realized I just couldn’t pull it off. I mean, Bob Dylan barely pulls it off, but I was particularly pathetic at it. I was so bad, I’m not even sure anyone noticed.
4. When I was in high school, we used to throw pennies at Freshmen, too, so it was funny seeing the Laura Lee scene. However, actually heating the pennies up with a lighter… I never would have thought of that. Was that something you experienced yourself? [Editor’s Note: “We” refers to the upperclassmen. I didn’t care enough to throw pennies at Freshmen. I promise I’m not a jerk!]
Sigh. Sadly, yes. How awful is that. (Rhetorical.)
5. Continuing on from the previous question, I read you also grew up in a small town and your intention with this film was to show the dark side of small towns that have not been depicted previously. Being born and raised in Chicago, I could only imagine the kinds of shenanigans small town kids would come up with for entertainment. How much of the film did you pull from your own life?
Pretty much everything in the movie has seeds in reality. Obviously the film is exaggerated and amped up a little, but you’d be surprised how many of the incidents have real-life corollaries.
6. After the denouement, the main characters find closure and happiness in their various plots: Caroline is able to put closure to her affair with Barry and accept Thurston (possibly representing her acceptance of her new, small town life?) and Barry finds implied love with the coach. Essentially, they find beauty in disaster. In the rise, it seemed like everything was going to come crashing down with no happy ending in sight. Did you really want to tie things up nicely for the characters, or did you feel this urge in the back of your mind to leave everybody and everything broken?
The end is a little open to interpretation. I’m not sure Caroline and Thurston have a long future together. Probably my favorite line in the film, the one that resonates the most for me, is the last line, “…things don’t need to last forever to be perfect”. It’s a sentiment I put a lot of stock in.
7. What kind of daydreams did you have when you were younger? Did any of those daydreams become reality for you?
Hmmm. Hard question. I think my early daydreams were about becoming a super-hero, and then they became progressively more perverted.
I would say very few came true, unless the X-Men ask me to join them sometime before I hit forty. That’s why I hate “The Secret”. If “The Secret” worked I would definitely be able to start fires with my mind.
8. Finally, what can you tell me about any of your upcoming projects?
Right now I’m writing a re-make of the South Korean film “Castaway On The Moon” for Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Mr. Popper’s Penguins) to direct. And I have a new screenplay of my own I’d like to helm. But more than anything I want to help Daydream Nation find its audience. It’s such a low-budget movie that it needs to be ushered into the world with a little extra care. I’ve always said that not everyone will like this film, but certain people will love it. So now I want to help those people find it.