With its high school setting and the evocative title "Dare," I was prepared for this film to be either a standard teenage romp or perhaps a cautionary tale about alienated youth causing mischief. In fact, it is a rather sensitively wrought tale of conflicted emotions and youth struggling for identity. Blurring lines between sex and friendship, "Dare" introduces a somewhat accidental threesome that is as intriguing as it is believable. This non-traditional bond is purely unintentional with each party seeking something from the relationship that will never be fully realized. Earnest, and even heartbreaking, the film grows more disturbing as it progresses--with the teens both liberating one another while causing emotional damage.
The film is split into three parts--one to represent each of the young protagonists. Emmy Rossum effectively plays an overachiever who doesn't quite click with the popular crowd. When paired for an assignment with rebel jock Zach Gilford, she takes this as a chance to challenge the good girl expectations placed on her by advancing a sexual liaison with him. Her best guy pal, Ashley Springer, is struggling with his own sexual identity--he's both jealous of the new couple and wanting some alone time with Gilford as well. And Gilford, for his part, is much more troubled and complex than he seems and simply yearns for the closeness and normalcy of having real friends. Soon something rather illicit is happening--but with all the conflicting expectations, it seems a recipe for disaster.
All of the performances are terrific. Springer and Rossum capture the push/pull dynamic of a close friendship. Ana Gasteyer has a pivotal and effective role as Springer's mother, and Rooney Mara, Sandra Bernhard, and Alan Cumming lend able support. But in many ways, the film belongs to Gilford--likable on Friday Night Lights, but displaying unexpected depth and poignancy here. It is a star performance layered with complexity. What I like most about "Dare," ultimately, is that it is messy, emotional and confused. It has much to say about contemporary relationships even in its unconventional and daring set-up. All in all, this drama of teen angst is refreshingly adult! KGHarris, 4/11.