Thursday Trailer Face-Off! Lebanon, Pa. vs. Daydream Nation


Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week:
Lebanon, Pa. and Daydream Nation, two films about big-city fish moving to small-town ponds, 17-year-old girls who turn to inappropriately old (but very well-preserved!) guys for emotional support, and the kind of revelations you can only have in suburbia.

Lebanon, Pa.
starts with Will (Josh Hopkins), who hasn’t been to his Pennsylvania hometown in some time, returning for the burial after the death of his father. While there, he bonds a bit with his pregnant 17-year-old cousin, CJ, and becomes romantically interested in CJ’s married teacher. In Daydream Nation, 17-year-old Caroline (Kat Dennings) moves from a big city to a small town (a small Canadian town, at that!) with her father and promptly becomes involved in a love triangle between her classmate, Thurston (Reece Thompson), and her teacher, Mr. Anderson (Josh Lucas), who tries to disrupt her relationship with Thurston after Caroline breaks off their affair. There’s a hint of Election in here: the bitter teacher attempting to sabotage a student’s life after she has a student-teacher affair. It’s a better comparison than the two films Lebanon, Pa. immediately brings to mind, which are Elizabethtown and Garden State: the guy returns to his hometown after the death of a parent and gets tangled up in drama there. Even if it’s better than those two movies, we’re unconvinced. Advantage: Daydream Nation

Hunky Joshes
Both films star guys named Josh of around the same age (Hopkins is 40, Lucas is 39) who are certifiable hunks: tanned, in shape, with good jawlines and nice smiles. But which is the hunkier?! It’s very hard to say. Hopkins is probably objectively more handsome, mostly because he has a little more hair. Plus, he seems more attractive in this film specifically, playing a successful ad man (compared to Lucas’ teenager-bedding high-school teacher). But Lucas is better known, thanks to his star turn in Sweet Home Alabama and smaller roles in films like You Can Count on Me and American Psycho (Hopkins has had mostly TV roles). And Lucas’ middle name is literally “Easy,” so that garners charm points. Still, it’s too close to decide. Advantage: Draw

Joshes aside, how do the casts stack up? Lebanon, Pa. stars mostly up-and-comers and reliable bit players—Samantha Mathis (Little Women, Buried), Mary Beth Hurt (Lady in the Water, Untraceable)—and Rachel Kitson, in her feature debut. We’d give this category to Daydream Nation on the strength of Kat Dennings, who’s always seemed like she just has a good head on her shoulders, alone; so the presence of Andie MacDowell and Rachel Blanchard (who is so beautiful she could be a part-time model) is just a bonus. Advantage: Daydream Nation

Daydream Nation
was written and directed by Michael Goldbach, who previously wrote 2004’s Sundance fare Childstar. Lebanon, Pa. was written and directed by Ben Hickernell; he previously wrote and directed the 2005 thriller Cellar. They’re pretty evenly matched, so we’ll give it to Hickernell for making us giggle at a silly acting credit 11 years ago: he had a small role in a film called Little Red, described as “A modern day, urban Rebel Without a Cause centering around a high school kid who tries to save his childhood sweetheart from the world of drugs.” Oh my! Advantage: Lebanon, Pa.

Indie-Rock Cred
Daydream Nation
is really trying to cram its indie cred down our throats: besides the obvious Sonic Youth references (the film is titled after their fifth album, and Caroline’s love interest is named Thurston), another version of this trailer is scored by Beach House Honestly, it makes us a little cranky—maybe it’s because we associate Dennings with accessible indie fixation after Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lebanon, Pa.‘s indie connection is a little subtler: the film has original music by Matt Pond and Chris Hansen of Matt Pond PA, a band originally based in Philadelphia that’s been around for a little over a decade but has never really gotten overexposed. Their involvement feels more fitting with the film as a whole, and less like reference for reference’s sake. Advantage: Lebanon, Pa.

Small-Town Intrigue
We like our suburbia movies to feel like Cheever stories: idyllic on the surface, but with long-held tensions boiling just below. There’s plenty of this sort of thing in the Lebanon, Pa. trailer: at 1:03, Will’s cousin (and new pal!) announces to him that she’s pregnant; at 1:15, he tells his mother that the woman he’s interested in is married. And at the end of the trailer, there’s literally a montage of various people simmering with emotion. Delicious! But minute for minute, there’s more suburban angst in the Daydream Nation trailer: “The year this story takes place is the year nearly everything happened to me,” Dennings intones in voiceover. And then so much happens! She clearly has sex with her teacher; and what’s up with the kids riding their bikes with gas masks on at 1:24? How does a strip club figure in? Who just threw that lamp? Why does Josh Lucas have a gun? Why is everyone crying? Is Kat Dennings covered in blood?! Advantage: Daydream Nation

The Verdict
Musical pretension notwithstanding, Daydream Nation seems like the film more worth seeing. Dennings has made pretty good career decisions ever since her one-episode role on Sex and the City (she played a bat mitzvah brat in one of the best episodes), and we trust her to pick a decent role. And the more we think back on Elizabethtown (sigh), the less excited we are about Lebanon, Pa. That said, we’ll keep an eye on that Rachel Kitson—even from the trailer, we can tell she’s got chops. Winner: Daydream Nation