A great Australian cast keep this stage-to-screen adaptation engrossing.
March 17, 2016
Forget ocker comedies and downbeat dramas — when it comes to Aussie cinema, there's a new trend in down. Sure, plenty of titles have made the leap from theatre to film during the country's movie-making history, but with Ruben Guthrie, Holding the Man, Last Cab to Darwin and Spear all hitting cinemas within the last year, the nation appears to be in the middle of a stage-to-screen renaissance. Next comes The Daughter, with actor and playwright turned filmmaker Simon Stone leading the charge. After treading the boards with his own take on Henrik Ibsen's 1884 work The Wild Duck, he now turns the tale into an Australian-set feature film.
When Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to the mountainous outskirts of New South Wales after years spent in the US, his homecoming stirs up mixed emotions. His father Henry (Geoffrey Rush), is pleased to see him, but Christian has more than a few reservations about his dad's impending marriage to the much younger Anna (Anna Torv). And while his reunion with childhood best mate Oliver (Ewen Leslie) proves happy, the more time Christian spends with his pal, his wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and teenage daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young), the more troubles start to emerge.
Some characters know things they shouldn't, others are hiding details they're trying to forget, and everyone gets caught up in the chaos when certain truths are exposed, making secrets and lies The Daughter's primary currency. There's more than a little bit of melodrama at play, though there's not much in the narrative that's unexpected. Even if you're not familiar with the source material or Stone's previous theatre version, it's not hard to see where the soapy story is going. That's disappointing in terms of delivering real twists, turns and mysteries, but it does showcase the movie's true focus: its characters and performances.
Corralling an impressive, mostly Australian cast — a scene-stealing Sam Neill among them — Stone hones in on the actions and emotions of a close-knit group struggling with the weight of past and present deeds. Accordingly, the tension that bubbles throughout the feature stems from their reactions, rather than the many not-so-surprising revelations. Whether frozen with shock, arguing with anger or crying in pain, their response to the situation always feels real. Take the figure of Hedvig, the titular daughter, for example. She seethes with a blend of confidence and vulnerability not often seen in teens on screen, with Young giving her second great performance, behind Looking For Grace, of the year so far.
It certainly helps that Stone, as a director rather than a writer, favours an empathetic, subjective approach in his stylistic choices. With a colour scheme that reflects the characters' moods, and camera angles that mirror their perspectives, he crafts a movie that looks as intimate as the age-old issues it trifles with. The end result may be obvious and histrionic, story-wise, yet it's still for the most part engrossing. As such, The Daughter doesn't just bring the stage to the screen, but the messy nature of life as well.
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