It was a post-work routine of mine like any other. I was scrolling through my heavily personalized TikTok For You page during an insomniatic late night in March, a couple of days after “The Batman” debuted in theaters. I stumbled upon a fan edit for the new Riddler, featuring a highlight of the many roles that the actor who portrayed the villain has also played.
Now, if you know me at all, you know that I hate admitting that I became a fan of something through social media popularity, rather than making the trek into obscure internet back rooms and finding it on my own. Yet, when I watched this beautiful iMovie creation, a part of me arose once again, my deep-down affinity for a certain type of character trope that was last awakened by Sid from “Skins.” That one showcase compelled me to dust off my Amazon Prime Video account — since I am not a movie person at all — and find out what the hype behind this Paul Dano guy was all about.
Over the past week, I’ve successfully watched eight movies where Dano was featured as an actor. I’ve irritated my housemates, close friends and my movie-snob boyfriend by talking about “Dano-thon,” so I figured I’d take advantage of my position at The Oracle to thoroughly rank every character that this Gemini legend has played in the films I’ve seen.
Keep in mind, I am NOT a movie person, so take these reviews with a grain of salt as I am a college-aged girl who will always root for the “nerd” character and not a top critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, this is not a critique of his performances — he killed it in all of them — it is simply my preference of the many personalities he’s represented throughout his career. May contain spoilers.
8) Calvin Weir-Fields in “Ruby Sparks”
I’m starting off by saying that I’ve watched this movie twice. I am personally very obsessed with it and how good it is, but part of that relies on how much I despised the main character, Calvin, a burnt-out author who was regarded as a “young genius” years ago. He lacks the motive to write and the drive to meet women — that is, until he dreams of Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, his real-life wife) and she appears before him in true manic pixie fashion. He turns into a total control freak once he discovers that everything he writes about her becomes true, and he slowly starts to pick and choose which parts of her to amplify. I rooted for Calvin, but the second he tried to take away Ruby’s freedom to preserve her as his dream girl, the feminist in me lost all respect. Your cute dog was the only thing going for you at the end, Weir-Fields.
7) Joby Taylor in “For Ellen”
A deadbeat dad who’s fighting to win back his daughter, a struggling rockstar who is trying to squeeze another hit out of his band and a cigarette lover who spends a good 30% of the movie angstily stress-smoking … Those are the traits that make up Mr. “2014 Tumblr” Joby here. He made some sort of attempt to be a father, and after spending almost all of the movie in his psyche, I had high hopes for him. At the end of the day, he just seemed to run away from his problems yet again. You were so close, man. Maybe once you become the next Axl Rose, you’ll be able to buy the right American Girl Doll for Ellen.
6) Hank in “Swiss Army Man”
A wacky movie from the start — Dano is a stranded island dweller who befriends a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe — even weeks after I finished it, I still don’t know what to feel. I do feel bad for Hank; after all, a dead person was his first friend in years, presumably. In the end, I think I fell in love with their friendship more than I did with his personal character, but I feel like that might have been the entire point of the film. The bond between Hank and the very-dead Manny were portrayed beautifully and I did get strangely emotional at the end. As the film’s directors told Dano during the recording process, “The first fart makes you laugh, the last fart makes you cry.” Truly something you must see, or, I guess hear, to understand.
5) Alex Jones in “Prisoners”
In this crime thriller, Dano plays the primary suspect of the kidnapping of two young girls whose guiltiness is questioned when it’s discovered that he cannot fully communicate on his own, and needs his aunt (Melissa Leo) to assist him in his interrogation. Without getting into spoil-y details, Jones is treated horribly throughout the film, and the many blows that angry father Keller (Hugh Jackman) rains upon him made me sick to my stomach. After seeing the end, I do sympathize with him to a degree, and only rank him this low because we didn’t get a chance to truly know his personality.
4) The Riddler in “The Batman”
I truly believe that Dano is the perfect Riddler. I mean, I haven’t seen the other Riddlers, but the way he was able to come off as such an intensely terrifying serial killer while having the whole theater laughing as he greeted his livestream of 500 people is a feat not many can achieve. I know that this character already has a bustling fandom around him, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained by his wacky love-letters to Batman (Robert Pattinson), clever jokes that he kill me over because I couldn’t solve them and appreciation for pumpkin pie. Oh yeah, and his tendency to break out into “Ave Maria.”
3) Dwayne Hoover in “Little Miss Sunshine”
Another TikTok favorite, this selectively-mute Nietzche lover with a dream of flying jet planes is one of the most unique personalities I’ve ever seen written in a film. Even though he’s also your typical grumpy teen, he charms you, and you see a little of your past cynical 15-year-old self in him. In the end, you truly know he cares deeply for his family, and his character development will warm your heart. Plus, he has great hair.
2) Klitz in “The Girl Next Door”
Remember the little Sid from “Skins” sentiment I brought up earlier? Klitz is where it plays out. When his best friend Matthew (Emile Hirsch) falls for his neighbor who happens to be a one-time porn star, he, along with their other friend Eli (Chris Marquette) do their best to support his endeavors. Klitz is very much a spitting image of the “nerdy guy who manages to swoon all of the women he comes into contact with” trope and, you know what? I will always be here for that. In an after-party scene, one line of his that will always make me laugh is when a star asks Klitz — posing as a director — if he would use her in a movie.
“Hell yeah we’ll use you. Baby, I’ll do things to you I wouldn’t do to a farm animal.” An instant classic.
1) Jay in “Okja”
Dano returns to his jet-black-Dwayne-hair era in this 2017 Netflix film, where he plays Jay, the passionate head of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), whose mission is to rescue the namesake super-pig creature Okja. An animal lover. A vegan. A brave leader. Good with children. Jay is the perfect Dano character to me, his only flaw being that he beat up Steven Yeun — and they managed to make up before the end of the movie.