Daddy Issues

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Daddy Issues
"Cash's film is unbalanced and sometimes a bit of jumble but it has a lot of personality and a lot to say."

Maya (Madison Lawlor) is a child of divorce. She hasn't seen her biological father for years but that doesn't stop her resenting him, especially when her mother refuses to give her the support she feels she deserves, such as funding to develop her skills as a fashion designer on an internationally respected course in Florence. Sulking in her room, she cultivates a crush on local internet icon Jasmine (Montana Manning) but never really imagines it could be more than that. When the two meet in a club and Jasmine takes an interest, Maya is swept off her feet, experiencing the full flush of first love. But Jasmine's life is complicated. Maya's absent father is her sugar daddy.

In her d├ębut feature as director, Amara Cash takes on a lot of issues and doesn't succeed in managing all of them, but that's not a disaster because central to the film is Maya's inexperience with just about everything, and a sleeker production might have undermined this. Her confusion is brought about partly by events - notably an unexpected reunion with her father - and partly by a sense that the rules through which she has understood the world are changing. In this way, her personal journey mirrors a much larger, societal one of which she has little awareness, for all that her queerness, pastel gyaru presentation and internet-focused social life mark her out as central to it.

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In a pivotal scene, Maya asks Jasmine what she is if not lesbian of bisexual. "I'm American," comes the reply, summing up a fresh claim on social privilege that's very much a hallmark of their generation; yet much of Jasmine's privilege depends on money, and for that she needs sugar daddy Simon (Andrew Pifko), on whom she has also come to depend emotionally, highlighting the way that lines around sex and romance can become blurred even at a professional level. Cash has fun with the visual aesthetics of their world, all baby pinks and blues, frilly dresses and fluffy toys, but we never lose sight of the way it troubles Simon. Is it, for him, linked to paedophilic desire? Maya's mother gives the impression that she thinks so, but how much of this is the sort of moral panic that can attach itself to any kind of fetishism is difficult to say. During attempts to manage his discomfort, Simon resorts to the far more obviously damaging option of injecting heroin, something that attracts criticism from his own father and invites the viewer to wonder what kind of daddy issues may have contributed to his own unhappiness.

These sexual grey areas come as a shock to Maya, whose take on life is, for all its trappings, really quite old fashioned, and who isn't really ready for the notion that sex and love might not be the same thing. Though her self-centredness means she's not always a likeable protagonist, she's essentially sweet-natured and easy to relate to. There's a sense that her process of growth, clumsy though it is, will swiftly carry her ahead of people who don't have the same excuses.

Cash's film is unbalanced and sometimes a bit of jumble but it has a lot of personality and a lot to say. It takes on areas of femininity neglected by the mainstream and as such makes a particularly valuable contribution to the developing aesthetics of 21st Century queer cinema.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2018
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When a teenager embarks on a relationship with the woman she's been cyber-stalking, she doesn't realise that woman is her absent father's sugar baby.

Director: Amara Cash

Writer: Alex Bloom

Starring: Madison Lawlor, Montana Manning, Andrew Pifko

Year: 2018

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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