There’s an engagingly dreamy tone to this offbeat queer romantic comedy, continually wrong-footing the audience as the plot twists and turns around complex, likeable characters. Daddy Issues has a tone that’s refreshingly natural, as director Amara Cash infuses the film with real-life awkwardness. Sometimes loose and often quite camp, the movie also sometimes seems on the verge of veering wildly out of control. Which makes it feel bracingly original.
The story is set in Southern California, where 19-year-old Maya (Madison Lawlor) lives in Orange County with her unsupportive mother (Jodi Carol Harrison) and stepdad (Seth Cassell). Maya hopes to study art in Italy, but isn’t earning enough as a social media star. So one day she decides she needs to meet her online crush, famous fashion designer Jasmine (Montana Manning). Impulsively driving to Los Angeles, Maya is startled that there’s an instant spark of attraction with Jasmine, and they launch into an almost deliriously idealistic romance. Of course, things quickly get much more complicated, because Jasmine also has a sugar daddy, Simon (Andrew Pifko), who funds her lavish lifestyle. And she doesn’t know that Simon is also Maya’s estranged father. At the same time, Maya is reconnecting with him, unaware of his connection with Jasmine.
Screenwriter Alex Bloom dangles the threat of this other shoe dropping over much of the movie that follows, and when the truth finally comes out it creates a series of unexpected reactions. Meanwhile, Cash paints the film in pastel shades, a riot of colour, texture and style that perfectly echoes how everything hast to be an Instagram post for these women. Woven in between the parties and playful hang-outs are some surprising moments of intimacy, as Maya and Jasmine deepen their relationship. And the polyamorous Jasmine is also pursuing a stronger connection with Simon.
Each cast member adds his or her own charm to the movie. Lawlor and Manning skilfully develop a nicely offhanded chemistry that seems like it’s improvised. Both their gleeful highs and tortured lows feel honest, which helps make them sympathetic even when they do something likably stupid. Pifko also has a remarkably complex role to play, walking a delicate tightrope as a man abusing drugs to cope with his own domineering father (Monte Markham) and at the same time trying to maintain a girlfriend and reconnect with his daughter. Other characters are a lot more cartoonish, especially as events spiral into some soap opera-style melodrama.
The wrinkles in this story raise all kinds of intriguing issues. When Maya discovers that Jasmine has a boyfriend (without knowing who he is), she is forced to come to terms with Jasmine’s non-monogamous, pansexual lifestyle. Does true love always require these kinds of compromises? Is it possible to retain your own artistic expression even as life throws mind-boggling things at you? These questions keep the audience connected with the characters even if the story begins to feel somewhat nutty. They also give Lawlor and Manning enough depth to show what talented actors they are. And with this first feature, Cash definitely proves that she’s a filmmaker to watch.