Darby and the Dead recycles 80’s High School Drama for a new generation
After suffering a near-death experience as a young girl, Darby Harper (Downs) gains the ability to see dead people. As a result, she becomes introverted and shut off from her high school peers and prefers to spend time counseling lonely spirits who have unfinished business on earth. But all that changes when Capri (Cravalho), the Queen Bee of the school’s most exclusive clique, unexpectedly dies in a freak hair straightening accident, resulting in the obvious cancellation of her upcoming “Sweet 17.”
Capri, however, pleads with Darby from the other side to intervene and convince Capri’s friends to proceed with the party as planned. In order to appease the wrath of the undead diva, Darby must emerge from her self-imposed exile and reinvent herself — which along the way, allows her to find new joy back in the land of the living.
“Darby and the Dead” stars Riele Downs (“Henry Danger”), Auli’i Cravalho (“Moana”), Chosen Jacobs (“IT”), Asher Angel (“Shazam!”), Wayne Knight (“Seinfeld”), with Derek Luke (“13 Reasons Why”) and Tony Danza (“Who’s the Boss?”), and is directed by Silas Howard (“Dickinson”).
The screenplay is by Becca Greene (“Good Vibes”), based on a story by Wenonah Wilms (“Fem 101”), and the producers are Adam Saunders (“When We First Met”) and Eddie Rubin (“Blue Bayou”), with Michele Weisler (“The Kissing Booth”) and Mac Hendrickson serving as executive producers.
Darby and the Dead pays tribute to iconic teen movies like “Mean Girls,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Heathers” and “Clueless,” while capturing the nuances of the modern-day teenage social ladder. The film stars Reile Down as Darby Parker, a girl forever changed by her near-death experience. She is shut off from most of her peers, judgemental and introverted.
Darby is offset by the social butterfly/ mean girl Capri played by Moana superstar Auli’i Cravalho. Cravalho is convincing in her role as Capri, playing the role of the unlikeable Queen Bee to perfection. Up until the end of the film, Cravalho makes it hard to like this character.
The film ultimately falls into a weird demographic. While the film’s story is purposely trying to evoke 80s teen film nostalgia, it falls short in connecting to the generation reared on The Breakfast Club and Heathers. Meanwhile, Darby and the Dead has a look and feel reminiscent of Disney Channel films that seemingly cater to younger audiences.
While “Darby” classifies itself as a teen comedy, younger children (and their parents) may be turned off by the gratuitous language which was seemingly forced into the script to make it seem “edgy”. The film has a PG-13 rating for language and does everything it can to fit in as many expletives as it can. Parents with younger children are forewarned, Darby and the Dead may not be appropriate for younger teens.
Darby and the Dead excelled at its depiction of the social media landscape and its distortion of reality for today’s kids. I’m sure that teens of Gen Z will be able to associate with this film more so than this Gen X author did, and perhaps that is the point of the film. If “Darby” is trying to create a teenage drama for a whole different era, then it may very well land with its intended audience.
The cast of the film seems too adorable to be evil, but then again so was the Brat Pack in the 80’s. Darby and the Dead is a solid addition to HULU’s growing catalog of films and is certainly worth a watch, but my recommendation is to stick with the classics that inspired this reductive film.
(2 out of 5 stars)
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