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An unfortunate series of events—filled with sugar daddies, struggles with sexual identity, and a cruel lover—come into play in “Daddy Issues,” directed by Amara Cash, an entry at the Wicked Queer Film Festival. Maya Mitchell (Madison Lawlor) is an amateur artist who dreams of going to art school in Florence. Somehow she finds herself lost in the world of Jasmine Jones (Montana Manning), a young fashion designer in Los Angeles who gets by with financial support from her “sugar daddy” Simon Craw (Andrew Pifko), a doctor. After a drunken, sloppy L.A. party, Maya—a young, pink-haired queer woman—finds herself falling in love with Jasmine, completely unaware that she has inadvertently created an awkward triangle with Simon, who turns out to be Maya’s father. Despite these seemingly intriguing twists and turns, the film fails to evoke sympathy for the characters caught in this chaotic circus.
Despite the use of dramatic irony, the film’s impact is limited. As the film progresses and Maya falls deeper and deeper in love with Jasmine, it becomes more difficult and less emotionally urgent to envision how the climax of the film will unfold. The personalities portrayed in the film lack sense and consistency: For example, Jasmine radically shifts at the end from someone who genuinely enjoys spending time with Maya to adopt a “get-out-of-my-face” attitude, in an evolution so extreme that it becomes laughable. Time becomes distorted in the film until the cat is finally out of the bag at the end, evoking an instinctive indifferent and unconcerned reaction rather than a sympathetic one for Maya, who very well deserves it.
Overall, the film lacks a critical sense of credibility. While the film is titled “Daddy Issues,” the plot ends up being about more than just the exploitation of two women by the same “daddy”: Jasmine, for example, must learn to understand her mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder, while Maya worries about her plans for art school. These scenes that splinter off from the main plot have little relevance to the overall story and fail to contribute to the drama taking place in the foreground. While the audience’s full attention should focus on the troubling relationship between Jasmine and Simon, the attention instead shifts to a myriad of different issues. By the end of the film, it feels natural to equate Maya’s wish to go to art school, for example, with the consequential love triangle, relegating the crux of the plot to just another one of the many “issues” the characters must face. This is especially true for the first half of the movie when the plot, setting, and characters take time to develop; by the end of the film, however, it is difficult to establish specifically how these peripheral scenes contribute to the film.
Despite these critical flaws of the film, Nico Aguilar’s cinematography nonetheless adds a narrative authority of its own. While it is hard for the film to demonstrate the confident ethos necessary to draw the audience in, some parts of the film manifest in the imagery itself, which heightens the significance of a given scene. For example, the depiction of Jasmine and Simon’s break-up through the silhouettes on the screen says more than the characters’ lines themselves. Cash’s directorial decision to craft the upsetting mood through visuals, rather than outright dialogue, makes the scene particularly memorable.
The film ultimately ends with an eerie ambiguity about the director’s intentions, making it difficult to answer basic questions about the plot. Is it a comedy or a tragedy? A queer film about loneliness and despair, or a critique of the destructive nature of a rich white man? It is hard to tell when a movie with a simple premise incorporates so many unnecessary extra plot devices, but a single truth stands out: The shallowness of the characters on screen, as well as the director’s shoddy execution of the narrative, combine to make “Daddy Issues” a film about nothing at all.
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