On paper, Daydream Nation sounds like a prime offering of teenage dysfunction, especially if you have a weakness for alterna-teens of the late twentieth century. It's infused with a healthy dose of Sonic Youth -- the film's title comes from the band's 1988 album, the themes reflect classic Sonic songs, and writer/director Michael Goldbach names one of the leads after band headliner Thurston Moore. Nation also offers the sexual release and danger of Doom Generation, the sarcasm of Heathers, Pump Up the Volume's alienating intelligence, and the stoner glee of Dazed and Confused. In other words, it should be cinematic crack to the youthfully disenfranchised -- teens behaving badly in a small and sketchy town. But unlike the creations it's similar to, Daydream Nation is a messy tale over-saturated with side plots, flat characters, and a bipolar tone.
Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings) is a busty teenage intellectual who has moved to a tiny conservative town with her single dad. Everything about the place insults her modern sensibilities, as industrial fires rage nearby for months (leading to a momentary gas mask fashion trend), and a serial killer is targeting teenage girls. No one understands her, though stoner Thurston (Reece Thompson) has a crush on her regardless. Unfortunately for the clueless and hopelessly romance addict, Caroline has decided to reinvent herself as a saucy tart, using an essay about Monica Lewinsky to proposition her young teacher, Mr. Anderson (Josh Lucas). Before we know it, she's got a casual sexual/romantic relationship with the weak teacher, a love/hate friendship/romance with Thurston, and a world playing into her manipulative hands.