review for Daltry Calhoun on AllMovie

Daltry Calhoun (2005)
by Michael Buening review

There's potential for a decent coming-of-age story in Daltry Calhoun, but it's lost in the half-hearted tall tale of the title character (Johnny Knoxville) and the jumble of Southern clichés that passes for the film's style. With an '80s flashback opening and Calhoun's cheesy television ads, what appears to be shaping up as a trashy rural comedy does a 180 when Calhoun's ex-girlfriend May (Elizabeth Banks) returns with their grown-up child (and the movie's narrator), 14-year-old musical prodigy June (Sophie Traub). May is dying of that unnameable disease which claims all young, beautiful movie mothers, steering the movie toward weepy Steel Magnolias territory. But in an attempt to avoid overt melodrama, writer/director Katrina Holden Bronson conveys the complex emotions of the characters through minimalist scenes so minimal they nearly disappear. Knoxville and Banks, both decent comic actors, have difficulty plumbing the depths of their characters and do most of their emoting with their backs to the camera. The story is further stretched by the inclusion of a good-hearted idiot named Doyle (David Koechner) -- by movie law every Southern town is required to have one -- and a few random magic realist touches. After May dies, the movie becomes all about the characters' attempts at redemption, but the story is so thinly sketched and clunkily plotted that it's hard to care. Daltry in particular, depicted as a cheap joke early on, never emerges as a complex person. June is really the central character and Traub, capturing the precocious awkwardness of puberty, provides the movie with its only real moments in the scenes where she forcefully flirts with the Australian seed expert (Kick Gurry) working for Daltry. Traub is aided by a touching performance by Juliette Lewis as local store owner Flora, who nurses a crush on Calhoun and uncertainly attempts to befriend and mother of the child.