Sean Perry’s Dash is a master class in cringe comedy. This movie takes the one location dash cam, Locke-style of cinematography, which means that our man Alexander Molina (also executive producer) is in the driver’s seat the entire movie. The first scene is quite strong, we open with a black screen and a loving phone message from an expecting mom, before the visual of a woman giving a perfunctory, unsexy handjob in a parked car. Their ensuing conversation contains all of the awkwardness of eighteen months in quarantine and sets the stage for the first act, which is structured as a Russian roulette of characters spinning into and out of the rideshare, and the richness of those stories and storytelling permutations will hold your interest for the first three scenes (one of my favorite is his meta conversation with a drunk man, played by none other than Sean Perry, that he picks up at the Chinese Theater), until Molina’s character is finally successful in accomplishing the goal of the night. The plot from here goes into overdrive: we watch as a young woman played by Shah Granville overdoses in the backseat of his car while he’s preoccupied with texts to his pregnant girlfriend and wife simultaneously.
(The texting, by the way, in this movie, is fairly playful. I’ve written previously about the way that texting conventions in movies and I’m happy to see I’m not the only person who thinks that Personal Shopper constitutes as a high point in our on screen depictions of textual communication. Anyway, texting is fun in Dash: we have entirely silent scenes that depend on the actresses mugging for the camera and tittering away as the screen lights up with their written repartee, Molina none the wiser in the front of the car. It feels a little similar to the kind of games played in Season 1 of Master of None, the capsule episode “New York, I Love You,” which features deaf actors signing in ASL to comic effect with the sound removed for an extended period. There’s a lot of intricate care taken with texting gags in Dash as well, from the weird obfuscating names that Molina’s character has given to his various romantic and business attachments in order to allow for him to live double (triple?) lives, to the placement of notifications and popups from the driver app, to the stomach lurching misfires of early hangups mid conversation.)
The stream of consciousness, single point of view, continuous shoot feels pretty seamless, like the breathless pacing of Birdman, which is probably easier to accomplish with a single set, but it did make me wonder at multiple moments if Molina was truly driving around town to pick up his costars or if the editors had been able to CGI the reflected lights of the city streets onto a top layer of the window in order to give the impression that he’s in almost near constant motion while he performs. It’s a mesmerizing effect and very convincing.
Dash is tumbling toward a reckoning. What starts as an uncomfortable detente between the audience and its flawed fuckboy of a main character accelerates into a positively permanent eye roll at the sloppy mess he’s made for himself. I’m not entirely interested in the Suicide Attempt as Plot and I think there were ways that he could’ve put himself into similarly awkward and painful straits without having to put a gun to his head, but you can excuse some of the excesses of the second act through its kinship with Chris Farley and John Candy comedies from the 80s and 90s and their love affair with jumping the shark with physical gags. Paige Grimard and Audra Alexander deliver delicious and wonderful performances as the straight men to Molina before their dialogue tumbles into sub-literate cursing, in a similar vein to the structure and pacing of the comedy of manners by Yasmina Reza, God of Carnage.
You cannot look away from Dash and that’s the point. Really lovely, but so so cringe.