Dear David (2023) Netflix Movie Review – A school drama filled with extremes

A school drama bursting with extremes

Released on Netflix this year, the Indonesian school romantic drama, Dear David, is bursting with extremes. When a church-going scholarship student’s lascivious fantasy writings are posted for the whole school to see, everyone presumes it’s the school’s bad girl. Of course, it is.

The target of said fantasy – labelled porn by the school board – is the star football/soccer player who is now suddenly the name on everyone’s lips. But all he wants is to calm his already raging anxiety and gain a smile from the girl he likes.

The real writer, Laras, keeps her head down, determined to maintain her scholarship as the controversy swirls. Her stories were meant for her eyes only. On friendly-ish terms, David quickly figures out that Laras is the author and to keep her secret, asks her to help him with his crush, Dilla – the accused and Laras’ ex-best friend. Tricky.

Dear David is a sweet mix of feelings under a layer of commotion as the mystery is slowly unrolled by the school administration. Using more stick than carrot, they doggedly dig for evidence on the porn purveyor, using intimidation tactics from measuring the length of the girls’ skirts to collecting student’s phones. As the investigation goes on, the triangle between Laras, David and Dilla builds.

Directed by Lucky Kuswandi, an award winner of the Singapore International Film Festival, he is one of Indonesia’s most exciting young directors. He’s also helmed Ali & Ratu-Ratu Queens and Galih & Ratna, both on Netflix in some regions.

Lead actress, 24-year-old Shenina Cinnamon plays Laras like a natural. She’s known for Photocopier (Netflix) and Cross the Line. Emir Mahira is the title’s David, also appearing in the Indonesian series Switchover and film Onde Mande! Caitlin North Lewis is Dilla, previously appearing in the film, Paranoia.

Some of the acting is a little clunky in places but the two leads make it worth the watch as they get closer on Mission Dilla. The story occasionally veers off into tangents here and there as they take on some big issues such as mental health and sexuality but don’t really explore them. So, these pieces feel like they’re thrown in ’cause that’s what 2020s high school films do. Woke box checked.

Often the focus is on the juxtaposition of opposing forces, rather than the characters. Student vs administration; porn vs religious overtone; cool kids vs the not-so-cool.

The most interesting line of the whole film is uttered as a faceless voiceover, almost a throw-away. ‘I don’t want to be a good person – I want to be myself.’  The one idea that doesn’t seem like it should be a contrasting concept. You can’t be both? Maybe in that world, from Laras’ point of view, she can’t.

Though the plot is about risqué writing, Dear David is remarkably unsullied, showing a bit of skin and alluding to the act but not going there. The characters all talk a big game but they remain mostly as their pastor and parents would wish, at least physically. One thing is certain in all this spectacle and upset – Laras’ mother is an absolute saint.

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  • Verdict - 6.5/10

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