The Daughter looks the goods for the greater part, then veers off track and spirals into excruciating and psychologically implausible melodrama.
The Daughter has excellent film pedigree. The producer has serious form (Lantana and The Piano), the cast likewise (Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto), and writer/director Simon Stone has won acclaim as an actor and theatre director. This is his debut feature film, which is based on his lauded stage adaptation of Ibsen’s play, The Wild Duck.
For its first two thirds, the film largely fulfils its promise.
The opening foreshadows the relationship dynamics of the two families around which the story is built and introduces the two patriarchs (Ibsen’s all over these early scenes, sure, but they are well managed). A wild duck is winged by timber mill owner Henry (Rush) during a hunting trip, and ends up in the care of Walter (Neill), who keeps a bush sanctuary for injured birds and animals. The contrast between the two is stark and obvious: one is a destroyer, the other a nurturer. It turns out that these qualities are carried forward to the next generation of their families.
While Henry and Walter do not get on, their sons – Christian (Paul Schneider) and Oliver (Ewen Leslie) – are best mates. The genial Oliver, a reformed hell-raiser, has stayed in town and is now happily settled with his wife Charlotte (Otto) and adored teenage daughter Hedvig (played by magnetic rising star Odessa Young, who all but steals the show). Christian has been living in the US for years, and on returning for his father’s marriage to a much younger woman (Anna Torv), reconnects with Oliver. It is soon evident that he has not fared as well. His marriage is on the rocks and he has an alcohol problem.
The story builds in intrigue with the arrival of Christian. During a heated exchange with his much resented father, he makes a discovery that sets some skeletons rattling in the closet, and must decide whether to unleash the truth of the past on the present, knowing that relationships will be torn apart, and that Oliver and the family he dotes on will never be the same.
All fine to this point. However, once Christian serves his function as a catalyst for dramatic development, his role is all but superfluous and he’s left as a sketched, incomplete character with not much to do. Worse by far, though, the piece nosedives into melodrama. That in itself is not necessarily a fatal flaw, but the psychology informing the characters’ actions is wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s terminal.
For example, there is a scene in Hedvig’s classroom in which she challenges her mother (standing in as a relief teacher) on a personal family matter in front of her peers. If you think the situation sounds contrived, you’d be right, but there are two major credibility issues here. Firstly, Hedvig is an intelligent, rational girl and it is out of character for her to initiate a blazing argument with her mother in class. Secondly, her classmates laugh in response. Surely they’d be stunned into silence, not moved to mirth.
Another example. When Oliver learns of a scandal involving his wife, he rejects her (credible), but he also rejects Hedvig without explanation. She is the apple of his eye. Would he reject her when she is blameless? Would he be so cruel as to do so without telling her why?
There are other problems, but spoiler consciousness precludes elaboration. Suffice it to say that by the end of the film I was squirming, not sobbing as the filmmakers evidently intended. I wasn’t the only one, going by the subdued tittering that broke out around the cinema on credit roll.
For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives