Review by Andrew Sweatman, Senior Editor at Arthouse Garage
Comedy is hard. That’s a major theme of the new film Daddy Issues, and it’s also an undeniable truth of the entertainment business. Actors and filmmakers have been learning that lesson since the invention of the moving picture, and stage actors knew it before that. When a movie is funny, there’s something in the air that keeps you on your toes, hanging on the words of the performers for the next punchline. A great comedy is a really special thing, but filmmakers have got to earn that kind of close attention from viewers. And comedy is even harder to sustain; even if you manage to earn the audience’s trust, it’s not hard to lose it.
That’s why it’s incredibly impressive to find a first-time feature director, and an unknown star, who can pull off comedy and keep it going at feature-length. Daddy Issues, directed by Laura Holliday, tells the story of Henrietta, a young stand-up comic in Great Britain who moves to L.A. after the death of her father, with whom she had a complicated relationship. She inherits her dad’s California estate and the burden of preventing his company from financial ruin. Once there, she reconnects with old friends Alice (Alice Carroll Johnson) and Nolan (Tanner Rittenhouse). The film follows this trio through relationship ups and downs, work stresses, and the struggles of transitioning into adulthood.
Kimberly Datnow as Henrietta is the lifeblood of this movie. She is consistently funny and relatable, and her performance keeps things moving when the story threatens to drag. When we meet Henrietta, she’s narcissistic to the point of rudeness, but thanks to Datnow she is compelling and even likable despite her selfish actions. Her character does indeed have mental health problems related to her father, which leads her to self-sabotage in her relationships, both romantic and familial, and it has a profound effect on her ability to be funny onstage. Datnow makes the comedy work and pulls off the pathos too, as the story involves a handful of heartfelt conversations between Henrietta and her two close friends.
Johnson and Rittenhouse deliver strong performances as the two other members of the central three. Alice has intimacy issues with her girlfriend and turns to the company of much older, much wealthier men who pay an online service to find non-sexual female companionship. This unusual dynamic leads to some of the film’s most interesting scenes. Nolan, who knew Henrietta’s father well, is essentially a squatter in his old house as he deals with the loss. Nolan’s positive relationship with Henrietta’s father adds an authentic-feeling wrinkle to her grief. It’s easy to reduce someone down to your own relationship with them, but people are always more complex than that. It’s a poignant lesson that’s unexpected from this mostly comedic film.
Daddy Issues earns a lot of good will with its charm and its many laughs, which serves to minimize its problems in other areas, one being a general lack of clarity around some of the plot mechanics. In particular, the passage of time was difficult to follow. For much of the film it feels like weeks and possibly months are going by, but then some dialogue seems to suggest that the whole plot takes place in just a few days. Additionally, some of the comedy just doesn’t work. In one scene involving a ride-share, the comedy shifts to a sillier tone that felt out of place in the more grounded context.
Despite these problems, Daddy Issues is a skillfully put together and crowd-pleasing film. These are filmmakers to watch— Director Laura Holliday and writer John Cox show off a knack for authentic-feeling relationships which, in combination with star Kimberly Datnow’s charm and comedic chops, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience.