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New Release Review - DAPHNE

daphne film review
A young woman questions her narcissistic worldview after witnessing a violent assault.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Peter Mackie Burns

Starring: Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Nathaniel Martello-White, Osy Ikhile

daphne film poster


There's a diner I pass every day which sports a giant window display that reads "The only true love is the love of food." It's an eye-catching but frankly misanthropic statement, with some depressing implications. That said, at least it's a love that's easy to indulge in. How many of us stuff our faces to fill emotional voids in our lives? The titular anti-heroine of director Peter Mackie Burns' remarkable feature debut, Daphne, certainly does.

For Daphne (Emily Beecham), food is the only thing that makes her feel alive, whether it's the Indian takeouts she regularly has delivered to her home, the fried chicken she chomps on while staggering home sozzled at night, or the obscure cheeses herself and her boss Joe (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) sneakily munch behind their bistro, as though sharing an illicit spliff. Unlike sex, drugs and alcohol, three vices Daphne also throws herself headlong into, food never betrays her.

daphne film

Daphne has fashioned a narcissistic persona for herself, but we soon learn it's a finely-honed defence mechanism. She claims not to believe in love, and that affection is only ever displayed for selfish reasons, yet every night before leaving work, she assembles a sandwich which she then passes on to a homeless man on her way home. Daphne has convinced herself she can't fall in love, because if she can't fall in love, she can't get hurt.

One drunken evening, Daphne stops by a convenience store and witnesses the clerk get stabbed in the chest by a robber. As the blood pours out of his wound, the man calmly asks Daphne to hand him a picture - it's a photograph of his wife and kids, which he stares at, mumbling their names, drawing strength from their mere existence. This throws Daphne for six - maybe there's something to this love lark after all?

daphne film

The marketing for Burns' film creates the impression of a slightly edgier Bridget Jones's Diary, which couldn't be further from the truth. This is a dark exploration of ennui, closer in spirit to Kenneth Lonergan than Richard Curtis. It's often very funny, but that's because its protagonist refuses to accept that she's the lead in a drama rather than a comedy. Daphne can't resist making a joke, even if it hurts someone, and often she'll strike a low blow for the hell of it.

Burns and screenwriter Nico Mensinga don't ask us to like their creation - she behaves in a pretty awful manner on a regular basis - but this isn't Trainwreck; it's not out to pour puritanical scorn on a young woman for her behaviour, and its solution isn't to throw her into the arms of a nice guy dullard. An attractive girl, Daphne has more than her share of suitors - the married Joe, an adorably old-fashioned bouncer (Nathaniel Martello-White), and a slew of random men that end up in her bed or on their couches - but this isn't a 'will they, won't they?' scenario, rather a 'should they? maybe not' scenario, at least not until Daphne 'figures her shit out'.

daphne film

Watching Daphne attempt to 'figure her shit out' is at times uncomfortably funny, but more often simply uncomfortable. She's a tragi-comic figure, with heavy emphasis on the 'tragi'. You'd like to give her a hug, but you're worried she'd stab you in the back. Ultimately, it's food once again, bread broken across a table, that provides the medicine Daphne needs in a final scene whose ambiguity will inspire post-cinema debates at your own local eatery.

In this so-called 'golden age of TV' we often hear writers discuss their preference for the small screen, claiming it allows them more time to develop characters. The great movie writers, whose ranks Mensinga may well join on the evidence of this script, laugh at such an idea, and in a mere 85 minutes Daphne offers us a protagonist we feel we've known all our lives. Thanks in no small part to an instant star-making turn from Beecham (perhaps the year's finest work on the acting front), Daphne is one of the most complex, intricate and fascinating characters to appear on a screen in recent years. If the only true love is the love of cinema, I'm head over heels for Daphne.

Daphne is in UK/ROI cinemas September 29th.



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