Daphne (Emily Beechum) is an acerbic but vivacious and highly energised 31-year old woman who tends to live the high life. She lives in a world of casual sex, drink and drugs when she can whilst working as a chef for a small café run by her friend Joe (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor). She is, however, masking an uneasiness and incredibly cynical worldview that causes her to be detached from her own happiness. This comes to a head when she witnesses a stabbing of a store clerk, forcing her to re-evaluate her life as she deals with the trauma of the event, including a potential serious relationship with bartender David (Nathaniel Martello-White) and her frosty relationship with her mother Rita (Geraldine James).
If you follow me on my Facebook page, or even listen to my radio show The May-Be Film Critics (I’m sure there is one of you out there-this comment is just for you…Mitch I guess your name is) will know that I’ve already reviewed Daphne on both platforms. I don’t tend to go over movies I’ve covered on my page for a Quick Critique, but this one has just stuck with me and it’s disappointing it isn’t getting any recognition (and yes, this will be the last time I talk about it until my 2017 list). This is an excellent movie that resonated pretty hard with me.
At its core, Daphne is a character study about a woman finding it difficult to grow up into the next stage of her life. This is a very modern problem I think a lot of people can relate to, and while it’s not the first movie to deal with arrested development, what elevates this from other material like is that our lead has both talent and opportunity to change her circumstances, but something is holding her back. She also doesn’t come across as someone who necessarily has issues with growing up, which is offset by the character’s unspoken depression that she’s forced to look into because of what happened to her.
On top of that, she’s legitimately a very loveable character. Emily Beechum just shines in the role as the devil-may-care loudmouth, making her feel like a real person instead of just an eye-catching performance. The movie is careful to avoid the usual spectacle of comedy, as most of it is from Daphne’s interactions from the world and the hilariously blunt or entirely inappropriate reactions she has. Probably the highlight comedically is a scene on a bus, which I think anybody can relate to if you’ve ever taken public transport.
On top of that, the rest of the cast do great. Her subplots with Joe and her mother run the risk of being cliché, but the earnestness they are written with and the wonderful performances from Lawlor and James respectively really make them work. I really like her quasi-romance with David too. You do get invested in these pair and the actors have very believable chemistry. They’re fun to watch.
I also love the direction in this one. How they shoot the stabbing sequence was fantastically clever, and I love the framing of pushing Daphne away from the camera in order to get a sense of loneliness and uneasiness in her world. We tend to get closer to her when she’s forced to confront some difficult truths about herself, and the variety of shots really captures her intense mood swings and stops the cinematography from looking boring, which can be difficult to pull off in a film set in modern London. The blocking of Daphne is great too-we have a lot of scenes where she’s clearly looser and freer in a way she just isn’t even to her closest friends, which is very true to life and displays just how cut off she is.
Daphne is emotional, cathartic, silly, classy, and powerfully subdued. It’s a story about depression and growing up as an adult that manages to avoid being depressing and childish. Led by an excellent cast and wonderful direction, it’s a rare gem that makes you relate to a surprisingly messed up character without being maudlin or embarrassing. It’s an underrated little flick that I related to a lot, and hopefully you will too if you get around to watching it after me recommending it about 50,000 times now. Still, I’m singing its praises for a reason.