Movie Review: Taxicab confessions with Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn in ‘Daddio’

It’s late at night when Dakota Johnson hops into a yellow taxicab at Kennedy airport in the new film “ Daddio.” She’s just going home to Manhattan, 44th Street, between 9th and 10th avenues. And her cab driver (Sean Penn) decides to strike up a conversation that will last the duration of this nearly 100-minute ride. There is no “quiet” setting cab.

This is not a horror movie, though for some a chatty driver on an unexpectedly long trip might be close. It’s not the beginning of a wild “Collateral”-style night either. No, these two people from different generations, different life experiences and different classes just talk about everything — life, mistakes, technology, human nature, what makes a New Yorker, absentee fathers, affairs, human nature and love.

“Daddio” was written and directed by Christy Hall, a playwright. Though we are also technically stuck in a cab with Girlie (Johnson) and Clark (Penn), Hall makes it feel rather cinematic, whether her camera is in close up on her actors, a rear-view mirror, a phone screen or letting us breathe for a moment with a shot outside of the cab, on the New York skyline. Claustrophobic it is not.

That’s not to say that some of the conversations won’t have you squirming in your skin a bit. The vast majority of those come from Clark, a Boomer with a heart of gold and some ideas about life that haven’t aged particularly well.

Taboo subjects and ideas that might get a person “cancelled” on social media are of course part of the point of this journey, in which two people who wouldn’t ever find themselves in an extended, soul-bearing conversation with each other under normal circumstances do.

Clark is one of those self-proclaimed truth-tellers who believes in his ability to read a person immediately, well-honed after 20 years of driving taxis in New York. He lures his passenger in with flattery about her New York savvy (giving cross streets instead of an address and not worrying about the meter) and shocks her when he’s able to immediately discern that the person she’s dating, and texting, is married. Her guard up a bit at the beginning with short, impersonal responses to Clark, who would ungenerously be described as a chronic mansplainer, but pretty soon they’re both in a therapy session (though mostly for her).

It’s an interesting and captivating pairing of actors, borne out of Johnson’s friendship with Penn (they’re neighbors in Malibu). He’s believable as this working class guy with no filter and she is as a woman with a lot on her mind. Movies like this and “AM I OK?,” are a nice reminder how Johnson thrives with material she connects with.

“Daddio,” in theaters Friday, is ultimately a fascinating and imperfect experiment in rich lineage of modest two-handers that take on an epic scope. There are dull moments and off-putting tangents that seem to exist only to provoke, but the message at its core is a nice one about connection and empathy and occasionally uncomfortable intergenerational conversations that don't end with someone being silenced. It might just have you thinking about starting a random chat with a stranger, too.

“Daddio,” a Sony Pictures Classics release in theaters Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “language throughout, sexual material and brief graphic nudity.” Running time: 101 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.