VIFF Review: ‘Daughter’ jumps head first into grief and self destruction, but doesn’t quite stick the landing

Loss of a loved one does many things to many people. Some turn quiet and introspective, some get angry and abusive, and some are broken by the experience and become self destructive.

Daughter is the story of a man dealing with an immense personal loss who is one of these third types of people. Jim’s (John Cassini) life is in a spiral, a positive feedback loop of drinking and prostitutes and running away from his grief. He is estranged from his wife and friends and is barely present at his job, and all because he doesn’t have the courage or will to face his traumatic past.

That, my friends, is a hell of a setup for a movie. I wish the payoff was as good.

As the film opens Jim is living in an upscale hotel. We don’t yet know what has happened that has shattered his life but despite the abuse and anger he is heaping on himself he is using escorts to find some semblance of a connection to another person. Enter Nikki, a woman he retains for the entire night, who he ends up sharing less sex but perhaps more intimacy than he has in some time with.

From here we follow him on the road toward confronting his aforementioned past. It doesn’t go quite as expected but, if I’m being honest here, I feel like maybe it should have a little more.

I’m going to be frank about this, the movie didn’t quite work for me. There’s no one egregious thing, but a number of small choices keep dragging the film down. For example, the script has a number of genuinely good scenes in it but overall it feels about one draft away from being good. Jim has a subplot with his mother that, while lending the film some of its best scenes, could be removed entirely and have little to no effect. Much of the film is well-acted but there are more than a few scenes that feel like they needed one more take. The plot relies just a bit too heavily on telling us what’s going on rather than showing us, in the moments that resolve the story.

John Cassini, an undeniably talented (Vancouver local!) actor is clearly giving 100% in his role as Jim. The whole movie is his show and he does admirably with it. There are times in this movie where you wonder "why hasn’t this guy ever broken big?". Teagan Vincze also has some great moments and easy chemistry with Cassini which makes Jim and Nikki’s night together feel natural and believable.

Also, veteran BC-based actor Gabrielle Rose plays Jim’s mother and shares my favourite scenes with Cassini in the film. I hope she gets some real love for her admittedly limited screen time.

Daughter / VIFF 2019

Daughter is filled with bright spots. A great cast and some great scenes, and a great setup, (and some great cinematography at times, too) but it doesn’t work as a whole. That said, the bright spots are bright enough that whenever we get to see director Anthony Shim’s next work I’ll be excited to see it, but the danger of shooting a film with limited time and budget is that some of the edges will be rough, and Daughter has just a lot of rough edges.