Rob Reviews "Donovan"
If ever we have needed independent film to fill the void Hollywood leaves in storytelling, we are in that time. With more remakes, reboots, sequels, and “this works, so let’s make twenty more just like it” situations that we have going on, it is rare that original voices with original stories told in original ways get the chance that they deserve. Sure, the shoot-em-up stuff that is out there (especially in the summer) are good for what they are, but sometimes we just need a film that has something to say and grabs us by the face, dares us to face its truths, and challenges what we feel are the norms of our lives and cultures. Writer, director, actor/, and renaissance man Jason Bee has spent over half a decade along with his blood, sweat, and tears to do so with “Donovan,” AND IT SHOWS.
The story of Donovan Drake (whose alliteration in his name actually works itself into one of the themes of the film and played by Bee himself) is one that takes a gritty, raw, and honest look at a man living and dealing with bi-polar disorder that takes the audience not only on his journey, but that of his family, friends, and co-workers. Donovan is a divorcee who is simply trying to get the endorsement of a therapist that will allow him to see his son, Evan (Bee’s son, Grayson) more often and thinks that he can simply overcome “the other guy” on his own. When he encounters a therapist who refuses to back down from him (Dr. Raymund C. King), Donovan is torn between what could be a breakthrough for him and the volatile side of his life, led by new flame Jessica (Kelsey Deanne) for what his “normal” is.
From the title card of Bee’s “Brilliant Mania Films” logo followed by an opening sequence that can only be described as disorienting (as it is intended to be), “Donovan” is a film that strikes deep into the soul of its subject matter that is unapologetic in its style while staying respectful and honest in a way that had me lose count in the number of stories told that ended with “thank you for this” by the audience at the screening and its Q&A that I attended. When people in a packed auditorium are willing to step forward and use this film as a spring board to share their own stories and struggles with a group of strangers almost three hundred deep, that speaks volumes as to its power, emotion, and inspiration. It is almost impossible to think that there is another actor that could convey the words that Bee puts to the page any better than Bee himself in a performance that takes its audience on an almost first-person trek through his triumphs, his pain, and everything in between. King plays the perfect foil to the game that Donovan thinks he is playing by giving a level of gravity to Dr. Cray that shows Donovan that he will not be like the other therapists that Donovan has seen by actually challenging him to better himself without forcing all of the “tell me about your mother” that is typically seen with these types of roles. And if Cray is the order in Donovan’s life, Deanne’s portrayal of Jessica brings the chaos to that balance with the force of a cyclone that keeps him spinning to a different kind of madness that is the jet fuel on the bonfire that is Donovan’s existence. Combine that with strong performances by Damon Carney as Steve, his best friend, and Rebecca Frances as Haley, his co-worker and conscience that he is reluctant to listen to, and this cast is solid through and through.
The entire time that I was watching this film, two words constantly came to mind: conversation piece. To know that executive producers King and David Visser are going to be hosting a number of charity screenings to help bring awareness to these and other mental health issues as a distribution model is the perfect vessel for “Donovan,” while word-of-mouth should help get the word of this wonderful film out for more people to see it, feel its message, and want to know more. With a strong script that dares its audience to stand up, take notice, and open a dialogue that is so necessary to so many, this is a film whose voice NEEDS to be heard on the biggest possible scale possible.