Daria spends the summer working at Mr. O'Neill's day camp for "sensitive" kids while struggling with her new relationship with Tom, Jane spends time at an artists' retreat to try to get over the whole breakup/betrayal thing, and Quinn works with a tutor to bring up her grades. Other students, meanwhile, spend their vacation in interesting ways: Mack as an ice cream truck driver, Jodie as an assistant to a sleazy congressman, and Kevin and Brittany as inept lifeguards at the community pool.
Note: Since the action in the movie tends to jump wildly from one scene to another, this synopsis is not -- for the most part -- written in a straight linear fashion. Rather, it is written in sections, each detailing a particular plot point.
(This movie takes place after the last episode of season four, "Dye! Dye! My Darling" (#413), and before the first episode of season five, "Fizz Ed" (#501).)
It's the onset of summer vacation at Lawndale High, but few students or teachers seem to be approaching it with any enthusiasm. (The exceptions are Mr. O'Neill, who's geeked to be running the OK to Cry Corral, a summer camp for sensitive children; and Kevin and Brittany, who have jobs as lifeguards.) Mack has a summer job driving an ice cream truck so that he can earn money to pay back his father, while Jodie's slate is full of anything and everything her parents think will look good on a college application. Quinn, meanwhile, is upset about her low grades and PSTAT test scores, which is preventing her from getting into her favorite "party college." And Daria seems to be the one who is the worst off, as she tries to handle her new relationship with Tom while dealing with Jane's departure to the Ashfield Artists' Colony -- run by a friend of her mother's -- and lingering resentment over "the Tom thing" (despite Jane's protests to the contrary).
Quinn's attempts to elicit sympathy and understanding from the Fashion Club fall on deaf ears, but she eventually agrees to tutoring after a kitchen-time discussion with Helen (who, at the same time, also deals with Jake's utter inability to see when someone's joking as well as Daria's apparent plan to hibernate for the whole summer). The Fashion Club, Sandi especially, is less than supportive, but they quickly change their tune when Joey, Jeffy and Jamie throw their support behind Quinn. David Sorensen, the tutor Helen hires on a recommendation from her boss (David tutored Eric's niece, Jasmine), strikes out with the nasty and self-absorbed Sandi, scatter-brained Tiffany, and neurotic Stacy, but manages to reach Quinn (after some initial resistance). To her eventual astonishment, Quinn discovers her long-dormant brain cells... and what's more, she finds she actually likes learning! But she soon finds herself with a dilemma: she's falling for David.
Daria's relationship with Tom is not exactly off to a smooth start. After his less than spectacular introduction to Helen and Jake, he and Daria encounter one person after another who keeps asking why he's not dating Jane. Daria has enough trouble dealing with that, but gets the added pressure of meeting Tom's family at their country club. They seem to be warm and accepting, but Daria just grows more uncomfortable, particularly when Kay Sloane later calls Helen and invites them to the benefit she is holding at the Lawndale Art Museum. Eventually, Daria and Tom get into a huge argument, where Daria accuses him and his family of being snobs and Tom volleys back that she's nearly impossible to reach despite all his attempts... and they break up (or, rather, Daria breaks them up).
As if all that weren't bad enough, Helen signs Daria up (against her will) for Mr. O'Neill's camp for sensitive children, because Helen refuses to let Daria shut herself away from the rest of the world. Daria isn't alone in her torture: Mr. DeMartino is also a counselor, as he is trying to re-discover his passion for teaching (a passion squelched by the likes of Kevin and Brittany). At the camp, Mr. O'Neill's touchy-feely methods are not a big hit with the campers (who want to go outside and play), but Mr. DeMartino's gruff demeanor -- which initially convinces him that he's a failure at dealing with kids -- wins over the children, particularly after he chews out the camp bully and, eventually, leads a "revolt" that has him leading the kids in a hike in the woods. Daria, meanwhile, deals with a particularly surly and depressed kid named Link. She's strangely drawn into helping him, perhaps because she sees a lot of herself in him. She nearly succeeds in reaching out to him, only to have the effort squelched by the well-meaning but clueless Mr. O'Neill. When camp is finally over for the summer, Mr. DeMartino has rediscovered his passion for teaching, but Daria fears that she's failed in helping Link, who leaves the camp even more bitter and disillusioned than when he arrived.
At Ashfield, Jane initially looks forward to a whole summer of communing with fellow artists, but soon becomes disillusioned when her fellow attendees turn out to be a bunch of poseurs and opportunists, many of whom look down on her because she's "just a high-schooler." She does, however, hit it off with one girl, Alison, and they eventually strike up a friendship, with Jane believing that she's finally found an artistic soulmate. But that, too, is soon shattered when Alison reveals that she's looking for more than a soulmate: she wants a bedmate... Jane, to be specific. Jane tries to convince her that she's not bisexual, but Alison doesn't buy it; frustrated and confused, Jane flees back to her cabin. When Jane later learns that Alison is having a fling with Daniel Dotson, the obnoxious and talentless guest artist, her whole view of the art world gets thrown into turmoil, as she's starting to wonder if all artists aren't just pretentious, opportunistic poseurs... and, maybe, if she's making a mistake in trying to be an artist.
By comparison, the summer activities of Kevin, Brittany, Mack and Jodie are relatively sedate. Kevin and Brittany prove to be worse than useless as lifeguards: their flirting causes them to miss seeing a drowning boy, their horsing around on the pool deck sets a bad example for the other kids, and their CPR lesson becomes a makeout session... all of which gets them fired. Jodie's overwhelming workload lands her with no free time, but she and Mack eventually get together when he brings her flowers while she works at a soup kitchen. Mack is able to endure screaming kids long enough to make back the money he owes his father (plus a little extra to take Jodie to Chez Pierre). And what happens to his ice cream truck job when he quits? He hands the job to someone else: Kevin and Brittany.
Daria eventually nears her wit's end and, desperate to talk to "intelligent life," calls Jane, who initially resists a visit but eventually relents. She hitches a ride with Trent, with whom she talks about her relationship (or lack thereof) with Tom. Trent reassures her that Jane knows they didn't mean to hurt her, and that she'll come around eventually (reassurance that's rendered less significant when Trent starts singing "betrayal... yeah, stab in the back..."). When she and Jane finally hook up at Ashfield, both girls attend the nearby Mystik Spiral gig (the reason that Trent drove out there), and there they hash out the issues that were plaguing them since the summer began. Daria gets reassured that Jane is finally over "the Tom thing," Jane gets a shot in the self-esteem when she needs it most, and most importantly, their friendship is back on track. There's even a bonus: Jane reveals just how at peace she is with the situation when she tells Daria that she should give Tom another chance.
Quinn's tutoring sessions finally come to an end, with David praising her for coming so far in so short a time. Bolstered by her newfound confidence and intelligence, Quinn tries to ask David out on a date, but is shot down... gently, but firmly. (They're from two different worlds, he says, and it would never work out.) Devastated, she seeks advice from Daria, who manages to convince Quinn that she's not as superficial as she thinks (because if she was willing to date David -- who isn't exactly a "totally buff hottie" -- then she must've seen something beyond his looks). She also reminds Quinn that she learned a whole bunch of stuff and that she doesn't need to act like a dummy if she doesn't want to, and tells Quinn that despite the risk of rejection, she needs to give people a chance -- like David did with her -- otherwise, there's no point to the whole "being human" thing. Helen, who overhears their conversation, manages to turn this last point around on Daria, but leaves to let Daria ponder her own words... but not before handing her a letter from Link. Turns out that Daria did reach him after all: he invites her to e-mail him if she wants to.
On the first day of school, Quinn manages to show how much she's learned over the summer by correctly answering (with a Quinn-esque twist) Mr. DeMartino's question about Manifest Destiny, which further validates his love of teaching but irritates Sandi no end... irritation that turns to utter confusion when Quinn blows her out of the water with a difficult vocabulary word. After school, as Daria and Jane are walking home, Tom pulls up and -- after a very cordial exchange with Jane -- offers Daria a ride home. Daria is about to resist, but Jane excuses herself, and Daria has no choice but to face him (which was what Jane intended). When they reach her house, they discuss their situation, and after getting Daria to admit that the whole dating thing was new to her and that she was afraid to commit herself, he offers to try again, but to go more slowly this time. She accepts, and as Helen looks on from the living room window, Tom and Daria engage in a little smooching. Helen waxes philosophical about the whole summer, to which Jake replies, "Is it summer already?" Helen is about to chastise him, but then sees the look on his face: he made a joke! They then engage in a little horseplay of their own as the sun slowly sets, ending a very wild and crazy summer in Lawndale on a most appropriate theme:
"Freakin' friends, freakin' friends, 'till we come to bad ends we're freakin' friends..."
The Last Day of School:
The last day of school means a lot of things: giving books back, cleaning out desks/lockers, possibly getting report cards, discussing summer plans, watch crazy teachers teetering over the edge, etc. It seemed to mean these things at Lawndale, too. It also meant saying "good bye" to all the friends you'll be hanging out with all summer. Herein lies the problem for Daria and Jane: they aren't going to be hanging out all summer because Jane is going to art camp. There was a large amount of tension between the two of them on that last day of school. Jane got very defensive about everything Daria said to her, thinking that it might be about something she didn't want to talk about, namely, Tom. For instance, I don't think Jane's reply to Daria's "I think I'm turning into you" was purely a joke (for the record, she said something like, "You've already got so much of mine, why not my identity, too?"). I think Jane getting out of the situation was a blessing. It gave her a chance to not think about it for a while.
Anything You Can Do, I Should Do Better:
It's amazing what a little competitive streak can do for someone. Take Quinn as an example: after taking her PSTATs (not PSATs; probably some copyright thing) and getting a score on the same order as the rest of the Fashion Club (her score was the best, but only marginally so), some internal switch turned on and told her that she could do way better. But, what may or may not have started out as a sort of competition to Quinn quickly changed into a small re-evaluation of her own values, especially in terms of her relative useful aptitude (meaning anything not Fashion Club related) to her so-called "friends." It turns out that she does care about doing well just for herself; she just has a hard time admitting it to anyone (she does keep displaying her "superior intellect," like when she quickly pointed out that luaus are usually in Hawaii), and this new found desire to perform well in school leads to the hiring of...
David the Tutor:
Quinn's tutor was a smart guy, sort of arrogant, but good at what he does. And what he does (or did) is get students with less that stellar track records back on the right track. This was exactly what he did with Quinn. She pretty much started out at ground zero, except she did sorta kinda want to do well. Her main problem was focus and priorities: she doesn't usually focus on the right ones. David basically had to threaten to leave to get her to pay attention and really get her admit that she wanted to learn (unlike the rest of her clique, whom I'll get to in a minute). Once she started to pay attention, she started to learn, not to mention develop a crush on her pedagogue (look here, Maw, I learned me a new word!) because he wanted to help her academically. Then, in sort of a role reversal for her, she tries her darndest to get him to acknowledge her in another way, until he told her that it couldn't work with the standard "we're from two different worlds" spiel. If we learned anything at all, it's that Quinn is becoming less shallow (it would have been nice to see some gradual progression of this during the last season, but I'll take what I can get): she put herself in a vulnerable position because of her feelings.
Rent a Brain:
Before we leave this mini-theme, I'd like to go over how the rest of the fashion fiends were involved in "Tutor-Gate." Naturally, when Sandi learned that Quinn had a tutor, she tried to use it against her rival and embarrass her with it. When the Three J's decided that it was cool and the original plan backfired, she went with the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" routine by hiring David, too (and, of course, Tiffany and Stacy followed suit). Of course, they all lasted about five seconds each: Sandi got rid of David by being nasty to him; Tiffany, by not listening to a word he said; and Stacy, who was the only one that showed any desire to learn, broke down when she found out that Sandi and Tiffany were dropped (and, in the process, further reduced my hope that she'll grow a backbone).
Behind the Mask #1:
Daria's plans of loafing away the entire summer were thwarted by Helen volunteering her to work at the "It's OK to Cry" camp. The conversation, which enlightened Daria to this development, contained a significant moment, when Helen told Daria that she wasn't going to let her stay behind her anti-social mask. On the surface, it kind of seems ridiculous for Helen to imply that Daria's anti-social persona is not her real self. However, if we probe a little deeper, it does seem to make some sense. Daria isn't really anti-social, she's just really picky about when and with whom she is social. The problem with that is that at some point you have to deal with social situations that you would rather not. You might as well learn how to handle them when it's not that big a deal. Another comment about Helen's statement: it's possible that Helen was also talking about herself. Perhaps she feels that she's sacrificing some of her identity to her profession, and that she doesn't want Daria to do anything remotely similar.
It Takes Two to Tango:
One of the major plot threads of the movie was the supposed "love triangle," which, in reality, was nothing more than an exploration of Daria and Tom's new relationship (Jane barely figured in this part of the plot, so I'm going to put her aside for now; besides, I already sort of covered it). Daria never seemed to be as comfortable or excited about the whole attempt at dating as Tom was. Granted, part of that had to do with the fact that they had to explain to just about everyone they saw that Tom wasn't Jane's boyfriend anymore, but it does go a bit deeper than that. She was also a little bit bothered by some of the things Tom was or wasn't saying, like the fact that her didn't tell his family about her until they met her. That led to him saying that "it's not like you're (meaning Daria) Jane," which set her off. His "upper-crusty-ness" was another thing that made her uncomfortable (the Morgendorffers and the Sloanes -- which is Tom's now revealed last name -- aren't exactly in the same tax bracket). This felt like more of a rationalization on her part; it gave her a reason not to see him. However, it's not like Daria didn't ruffle any feathers. She did seem to be picking fights with him. She was being contrary just to cause conflict. There was a blow up, and then they took a "break."
Of all the adjectives you could use to describe Mr. O'Neill's camp program, "exciting" isn't one of them. Being cooped up inside doing tedious arts and crafts while summer is going on outside isn't what most kids want. Like most of them said, they wanted to go outside, run around, and have some fun. Everyone except Mr. O'Neill, even, maybe especially, our favorite stress machine, Mr. DeMartino, realized it. Mr. DeMartino was trying desperately to find his will to teach again, something that seemed to be a long shot. For a lot of the time, it was not working, until his stress level started to work for him instead of against him. He made one of the campers cry by yelling at him for painting football players. Of course, this seemed like a bad thing, until the other campers cheered him for it (it seems that camper was a real pain in the ass). Mr. DeMartino's confidence gradually built up and re-energized his love for his craft, culminating in a broken window and freedom for the campers to experience nature. And I just loved his advice to the campers on the last day (and I'm paraphrasing): "If you get mad, go ahead; if someone is annoying you, tell them about it; and take a hike, whenever you feel like it."
For Jane, going to the summer art camp was a perfect thing to do. It gave her a chance to get away from things that were causing her problems in the first place. This was a way to relax in a secluded area and refocus some of that frustrated energy. The catch was that art camp presented its own delightful problems. First, she was just about ignored by her cabin mates. Then she had to listen to that windbag prattle on about what inspires him. Then there was Alison. Alison "saw" something in Jane. OK, let's just cut to the chase, Alison was attracted to Jane and saw an easy opportunity to get some nookie that hit a speed bump when Jane hit the brakes. Alison was nothing too special, just an aspiring artist willing to do anything, or anyone, for a shot. But her encounter with Jane started Jane down a short path of doubt. Jane was really clear to Alison that she wasn't interested, but it ultimately troubled her: she thought that maybe a lot of other people also thought she was gay (Alison did say she "never makes mistakes" in that department). Those doubts were washed away when Jane discovered Alison's promiscuity (along with that of our aforementioned windbag) and after a little encouragement from a friend.
Save Us from Them!
Kevin and Brittany performed their summer jobs as lifeguards exactly how anyone could have expected: poorly. They pretty much caused a lot more trouble than they solved, by setting a bad example for the kids by horsing around in the pool and by turning a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation lesson into a peep show. It's a wonder that anyone would hire them for such a sensitive job in the first place (apparently, their reputation doesn't precede them as much as I thought). As we found out after they took over the ice cream truck, they have trouble with making change. On the plus side, while Kevin and Brittany's role wasn't entirely a background one, they didn't seem to dominate the entire plot, like they did in some early season four episodes ("A Tree Grows in Lawndale" comes to mind).
I Don't Get It:
A clever running gag had to do with Jake's ability to perceive humor. At first, he couldn't get the concept at all. He gradually started to get it and, by the end of the movie, was cracking jokes of his own with his "is it summer already?" quip (which was hilarious, but begs the question, "how?" How did he figure this out over one summer, when he's obviously had trouble with the concept for at least two "Lawndale" years?). This theme worked its way into a couple of other scenes, as well. Like the scene at Tom's parent's club, when no one laughed at one of Daria's jokes until Elsie did, and the whole second confrontation between Daria & Tom and Kevin & Brittany at the party.
The Missing Link:
I just had to use that title (chuckle). One of Daria's campers, Link, wasn't really ever in a good mood. Who could blame him? It seemed that his life at home with his mother, father, stepfathers, whoever, wasn't exactly a good time. He was also miserable because of the sorry state of Mr. O'Neill's camp. Daria noticed that he seemed to be having trouble and was withdrawing into his own little corner. She tried to reach out to him and be his friend, and it was working for a while. But it was muddled during Daria's "things would be easier if you don't keep it bottled up" speech (believe me, I know) by Mr. O'Neill. But, he did seem to get over it, and actually reached out to Daria after camp was over by sending that note (see what happens when you try to help).
I'd Rather Be in School:
As for one of Lawndale High's more "attractive" couples (at least in terms of inability to make me want to vomit), Mack and Jodie, their summer turned quickly into a living hell of sorts, with Mack having to work the ice cream truck to pay back his father and Jodie being caught in "college application padding" mode (and while extracurricular activities help this cause, there is a point where doing so much extra stuff doesn't really matter much anymore: in other words, give that girl a break). Mack seemed to be really hurting, not only because his job sucked, but also because it kept him from seeing Jodie (along with her overbooked schedule). I was glad to see that it all worked out for them at the end (even though there wasn't much of a story beyond "they haven't seen each other in a while, now they did and they're happy"). Also, major continuity plus points to the writers for remembering Mack's debt (first mentioned in "Partner's Complaint") and Jodie's summer "fun" (first mentioned in "The F Word").
Still Be Freakin' Friends:
Once Daria went to visit Jane at the art camp, they made up, but not without some tension. As Trent pointed out to Daria, Jane "knew that no one was trying to hurt her" (he also said "betrayal" a hundred times), and it was only a matter of time before they could stand each other again. But the scene in the bar where Mystik Spiral was playing was a classic. Jane promised not to "find a boyfriend between sets" and both of them tried to blame someone else for everything that happened. They finally realized that fighting about nothing, and arguing just to argue, wasn't a good idea, and that they missed each other. As for Daria's encouragement of Jane, Daria told Jane that she likes her because Jane "knows exactly who she is." Daria dispelled all of what was left of Jane's sexual identity doubts without even knowing it (now that's friendship!). Finally, as they said good-bye, Jane realized that she was over all the "love triangle" nonsense, and that Daria should give Tom another chance (she is more well adjusted!).
Behind the Mask #2:
Quinn went to Daria for advice on how to handle her little crush on David. Daria helped Quinn by sort of using some of Helen's advice as her own. Daria also complemented Quinn on becoming more normal, that she could look past someone's appearance to what is really important and that she could give that part a chance. Daria even waved Helen off the situation: she did have it under control. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to teach it yourself.
Sort of ironically, the catalyst of the resolution to Daria's problem with Tom was Quinn's mini-crush on her tutor. She went to Daria for advice on how to handle it, and Daria ended up describing her relationship with Tom in the process of advising. When Quinn pointed that out and noted how compatible Daria and Tom are, Daria got the message, which eventually led to her "giving him a chance."
The First Day of School:
The first day of school went about the same as any other day: sort of miserably. However, this miserable day had an almost silver lining. Mack and Jodie are back together happily. Quinn is using her brain without being embarrassed by it and, in the process, reaffirmed Mr. DeMartino's zest for teaching in a scene that was a nice touch (if you don't remember, Mr. DeMartino asked the same "Manifest Destiny" question that he asked Daria's class in "Esteemsters"; of course, Quinn answered it correctly, and very much in her own words). Daria and Jane relinquished what was left of their animosity for each other, while Tom and Daria restarted their try at a relationship. But the running theme is that, after a long and arduous summer full of all kinds of trials and tribulations, things are now on an upswing. It's not perfect, but definitely rosier (who said this show was pessimistic?).
There's not much else to add; this was a quality movie that ended a quality season of Daria (not to mention, giving an ending to the "love triangle" mini-arc that left open the possibility for later exploration). I only really had a couple of complaints, some of the scenes were kind of unnecessary, and the celebrity guest voices didn't add a whole lot. Not absolutely perfect, but very very good.
Daria as a Whole #1, Alter-Ego of the Week:
There obviously isn't one, because there were no alter-egos, and I didn't have a particular favorite among the "outtakes." They were all good.
Daria as a Whole #2, Hope They Worked Cheap:
I hope whoever makes out the checks for the voice actors didn't spend too much on our celebrity guests. Bif Naked and Dave Grohl's parts, quite frankly, could have been done by anyone and no one would have cared (it's not like it attracted their fans to the movie; my brother is a huge Foo Fighters fan, and I couldn't get him to watch the movie). Hey Glenn, here's an idea: for the next movie, God willing, give me a call and I'll do all the new male character voices, and I'd probably be so happy to be there that I probably wouldn't even ask for any money. However, I think Carson Daly deserves high honors (if only for the longest "cameo" in TV history). He did a wonderful job as Quinn's tutor. I think he gets a bad rap from some Daria fans. I'm no fan of TRL, but what I have seen suggests to me that Carson doesn't always like the gig: he seems to have a definite sarcastic cynical streak.
Daria as a Whole #3, The Dreaded Word Count:
Not counting this entry, you've read over 3000 words of review. Wake up!!!
Copyright © 2000 Mike Quinn [All Rights Reserved]. Used with permission. The views presented here are those of the author, and may or may not necessarily be those of Outpost Daria.