Simon Stone’s Australian drama The Daughter is a modern retelling of Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck, and while flawed in parts, remains a commendable effort, where the filmmaker displays a rare aptitude for being creative and resourceful within his approach, without ever deviating into the unfortunate realm of pretension – something many directors struggle to overcome.
We delve into the life of a seemingly tight-knit family, with Oliver (Ewen Leslie) and Charlotte (Miranda Otto) raising their smart teenage daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) as she navigates her way around adolescence. With her grandfather Walter (Sam Neill) a strong influence on her life, everything appears to be going rather smoothly, both in and out of school. That is, until the arrival of Christian (Paul Schneider), the son of local businessman Henry (Geoffrey Rush). In town for his estranged father’s wedding, Christian is battling a few inner demons of his own, and when he learns of a deep, dark secret that connects both his family with that of his old friend Oliver’s – if it’s one he was to let slip, everything would descend into sheer chaos and vitriol.
The film hinges on this secret – and it works, as it’s been left in the wildly volatile hands of the alcoholic Christian, with nothing to lose as his relationship with his girlfriend – who remains back in New York – is seemingly reaching its bitter end. But to contradict the various layers of deceit within this tale, we cleverly adopt the perspective of the blissful Hedvig, unaware of what’s going on around her, while this shows that no matter how old you may be, you never truly grow up. Each character is connected to one another in a seamless manner as we drift between the contrasting narratives, all tied together by the integral character of Henry. To pull this off without feeling contrived is of great commendation to Stone, in an impressive feature length debut.
Stone also manages to avoid entering into the realm of the melodrama, which is another tough ask when dealing with such an implicative narrative surrounding a myriad of characters and intersecting plot-lines. But the true star of the show is Young, who excels in the leading role, bringing much nuance to the character at hand, which is by no means a straightforward one to portray and get into the complicated head of. If there is one thing that will definitely be spawned from this drama, it is the career of this bright young talent.