Dear David (2023) Review: Lucky Kuswandi’s ‘Dear David’ is an absolute charmer. While it presents a fairly typical teenage romance drama, it has a profound impact due to its heartwarming storytelling style. The narrative introduces us to Laras (Shenina Cinnamon), a young teenager who is one of the brightest students at her school.
Since Laras’ family’s financial situation does not provide her the opportunity to achieve her ambitions, she steadfastly works her way to achieve a scholarship. While her mother is pleased with her sister’s better marriage prospects, Laras is more concerned with her education. Because of all of these factors, she comes across as someone we would root for.
We are introduced to her through her racy fantasies that she posts on an anonymous online blog. Beyond her reputation as an ideal student, Laras seeks comfort in these stories. She narrates them with immaculate details. Passion and desire ooze out of her words. Yet, none of her friends or her family knows about this side of her.
Even after her blog becomes public knowledge, none of them suspects her to be behind it. It’s due to a perception she has maintained in their eyes as an ideal student. She is confident and occasionally audacious in her approach to any situation. However, that reflects her intelligence rather than a mindless pursuit for attention. So, it is hard not to admire her as a character.
Yet, she isn’t someone who is the center of attention romantically. As a result, David (Emir Mahira), who is the subject of her fantasies, does not look at her as someone who can come up with all the scenarios in the sexually charged stories. While Laras is interested in him, he is infatuated with Dilla (Caitlin North Lewis), who was stigmatized for something that was not her fault.
Dilla loves photography and is much more open about her social media appearance than her peers at school. While that presence may be due to her privileged background, which allows her to afford the extravagance, it is no excuse for a guy to defame her solely because she refused to go out with him.
Besides being David’s love interest, Dilla was also Laras’ best friend, who became distant after other students defamed her. For the longest time, we see them hardly meeting the eye to eye with each other. The incident with David makes her the primary suspect since their conservative school considers her openness as lewdness.
Laras reaches out to her ex-friend out of guilt as a result of her ex-friend being shamed. The same situation, however, manages to heal past wounds while making them more aware of each other on a deeper level. The movie adopts the basic framework of a love-triangle narrative as their friendship is pitted against their interest in David.
However, Dear David stands apart because of its mature exploration of narrative themes that are gently handled by its nuanced storytelling approach. Much of the success of this Indonesian film stems from how sensitively it handles its minor moments, which seem significant due to the way they are handled.
There are moments when the camera lingers after their dialogue which gives these actors enough space to explore beyond the lines of the script. Be it Caitlin, Shenina, or Emir, they present their characters’ emotional struggles earnestly. Even when it is a quibble between teenagers, you care about them on a deeper level due to the attention given to flesh out their tiny moments of realization.
Robert Cauble and his team’s gorgeous cinematography presents townscapes rooted in the character’s environment while bringing out an organic flair of romance. The stillness never feels stilted and almost always makes us feel closer to the characters. Winnie Benjamin, Daud Sumolang, and Muhammad Zaidy’s screenplay manage to present pertinent themes of sexual expression and female desire alongside those of social hierarchy, mental health, and sexuality in organic moments.
Through Laras, we see a student determined to stand up for herself because of wisdom that allows her to see injustice more clearly. David represents a man who has been under extreme pressure to believe that bottling up his emotional struggles will make him worthy. Other parts of the story address themes such as shame, bullying, and harassment, while emphasizing the importance of breaking free from prejudices.
There is a battle against a conservative mindset, be it for someone who wants to express her desires or someone who wants to be truthful about their sexuality without feeling guilt or shame (perceived as sins that the conservative should cleanse). The script presents the journey of these characters toward letting go of the shame attached to their actions and expressing themselves without a burden. In Dear David, we continue to see different aspects of their lives presented with the necessary warmth and compassion.