Now on Hulu, Daffodils asserts that New Zealand is a la la land, too. Based on the stage musical by Rochelle Bright — who also penned the screenplay — the movie shoehorns a love story into a parade of Kiwi-focused pop-rock songs by the likes of Crowded House, Bic Runga, The Clean and others, and apologies if my review is showing already. Notably, rock duo LIPS sits in the musical-director chair, and post-Alanis Winehouse-via-Bjork singer-songwriter Kimbra — who you might remember from the one-hit wonder Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know” video — contributes music and acts in this film adaptation. Whether any non-New Zealanders will find a foothold here is the primary question.
DAFFODILS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Maisie (Kimbra) visits her father Eric (George Mason) in the hospital. He’s on his deathbed, but he shoos her out the door — she has a concert to perform. Tearful, she leaves, takes the stage, begins singing and sees the young version of Eric in the audience. She walks out to him, but she’s also back there, belting it out into the mic, which doesn’t make logical sense, but this type of fantastical thing can happen in movies, you know.
Another thing that happens in movies: subtitles that establish setting so we’re not just sitting there guessing the wheres and whens. HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND, 1966 reads one of those subtitles. Eric cruises a dark road with a beer between his legs, and nearly runs over a young woman in a red dress. Rose (Rose McIver) is drunk and disoriented, and it’s a good thing Eric is a nice guy, because it starts raining and she becomes even more lovely. He gives her a ride home, safe and sound. She follows up with a thank-you visit as he works his job at a record store and does the aren’t-you-gonna-ask-me-out? thing. So he asks her out. Date night: he’s late, she’s a little huffy about it, but we soon learn — he can sing — she can sing — they can SIIIIIIINNNNNNNGGGG!
It goes well, because it kinda has to, considering we already met their daughter, who’s still singing on stage, the songs floating from Eric to Rose to Maisie in the Current Day. Eric and Rose’s dates are cute, there’s lovey flutterbys in bellies, and she learns he’s a little flirty with other girls but no less committed to her. He ships off to travel for a year or whatever, and she’s worried about the flirtatiousness, but he starts writing love letters and she writes back and they ache in each other’s absence, and sing thinkin’-about-you-thinkin’-about-me, la-da-de-dah, la la, la la. One of the letters comes with a ring, and then he’s home and they get married. Then, a subtitle: REAL LIFE. And if we know anything about poppy rock songs, you’ve got your love songs and you’ve got your heartbreak songs, and relationships tend to incorporate several of both types. Such is the story of Eric and Rose.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Some people don’t like La La Land, and those people are wrong. It’s a tremendous directorial feat, and I’m not even that big on jazz. Daffodils is a merely ably directed, emotionally thin, NZ-centric version of La La Land, with maybe the occasional Across the Universe jukebox-musical element.
Performance Worth Watching: Mason and McIver are the only cast members asked to do much of anything, and McIver is slightly better at making sure her character has something resembling an inner life.
Memorable Dialogue: “My name is Maisie, and this is my parents’ story.”
Sex and Skin: None, possibly because Prince was not from New Zealand.
Our Take: Eric and Rose are idiots. I could solve the primary conflict in this plot with one sentence, but they’re the frustrating type of movie characters that choose not to speak it, because the movie would no longer have a contrived conflict. Up to that point, Daffodils wasn’t so bad — there was some truth to their similarities, there was some truth to their differences, I was even almost on board for the painfully kitschy montage of their life in the 1970s and subsequent 1980s follicular travesties, on both heads and one upper lip. Her mom is a disapproval-bot, his dad is an infidelitous poophead, it’s them against the world.
But there ultimately isn’t enough to these characters to make us empathize heavily with their joys and sorrows, and their flimsiness renders the melodrama inert. It’s as if the situations were retrofitted to a selection of songs, and the characters created as cyphers for the lyrics; this is why musicals aren’t called characterals, I guess, although there are exceptions to this formula. One is Once, which convinced us that the only way its principals could communicate their feelings was through their tender and intimate songs. Another is La La Land, which distracted us from the musical medium’s flaws — or my biases, to be honest — because Damien Chazelle directed the living hell out of it. Daffodils isn’t even OTT cornball like, I dunno, Grease or something. It does succeed at finding the boring medium ground among these three styles, though.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Admittedly, Daffodils might not be for anyone who isn’t well-versed in the contents of Kiwi jukeboxes. But if it was a better movie, that ultimately wouldn’t matter.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.