I was primed for this New Zealand musical as a line of Maori singers serenaded the queue as we waited and they walked into the cinema. I was a tad disappointed when I realised they were there for For My Father’s Kingdom in Kino 1 and Daffodils was going to be a bit more pakeha.
The premise is an interesting one. Maisie (Kimbra) leaves her ailing father’s hospital bed to perform a gig and as she sings, we flashback to the story of her mother Rose (Rose McIver) and father Eric’s (George Mason) life together. Beginning in the 60s, Rose and Eric meet by chance, then by design, and marry despite disapproval from Rose’s uptight mother Eileen (Tandi Wright) and Eric’s philandering, abusive father Barry (Mark Mitchinson).
They intermittently sing nostalgic New Zealand classics that I am sure would be instantly familiar to any Kiwi. I knew a few of them – She’s a Mod (Ray Columbus and the Invaders), Counting the Beat (The Swingers) and Fall at Your Feet (Crowded House), the latter two being particularly poignantly rendered. It is a fairly effective conceit with Eric and Rose singing some lines, interspersed with the scene without song, as it might be actually unfolding. We also occasionally cut back to Maisie on stage and this is an effective counterpoint, reminding us of the emotional arc of the story that has already been hinted at.
The staging, costume and art direction are all gorgeous, capturing 60s, 70s and 80s fashion and home life without too much caricature. McIver is particularly engaging and plays the strengths and weaknesses of her character with conviction. Kimbra is also good although doesn’t get much to work with. Using makeup to age McIver and Mason rather than finding older actors wasn’t the best choice as it was noticeable at best, laughable at worst.
Based on the writer, Rochelle Bright’s parents story, it unfortunately begins to sag a bit as Rose and Eric’s relationship hits the rocks and they seem unable to have an effective conversation with each other. A key confrontation between them is diminished by the technique of one singing while the other speaks, rendering the interaction frustratingly void of reality.
That it stuck closely to the real story may have cost it a broader appeal and an ability to be more than a nostalgic fragment. Having said that, I’m going to dig out some of those tunes and give them a listen. I’m counting the beat 2, 3, 4, 5…
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.