In the first half of the 20th century the Brits, with their impeccable enunciation and dramatic gestures, set the standard for theater performances —Shakespeare and all the rest. In the last half of the century Canadians, with their informal American vernacular, added a generation of comedians to the mix. And in more recent times some very fine Australian actors — Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, et al — have represented their country well in the acting awards sweepstakes.
Now comes Australian writer/director Simon Stone’s film “The Daughter” featuring a group of actors with accents so impenetrable as to render the story line nearly incomprehensible. The film was half over before I could figure out who belonged to which family and who their siblings were.
To digress for a moment: I have spent a great deal of time on multiple trips to Australia, where my South African-born daughter lives with her British-born husband and their nine Australian-born children. And I have never had a problem with any of their various accents, even when they were all talking at once.
So it was with some dismay that I tried to reconcile the dialogue in the film with the action that was going on onscreen. For one thing, the title of the film was ambiguous, since, for me, it was uncertain whose daughter was being referred to and why. The theme of the film was, in fact, rejection — multiple rejections of the main character (when I finally figured out who she was) by everyone from the duck she made a pet of after her father had shot it down to the erstwhile boyfriend who awkwardly and unsuccessfully attempted to make love to her.
“The Daughter” is an adaptation of the 1884 play “The Wild Duck” by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. “The Daughter,” like “The Wild Duck,” deals with a dysfunctional family and a host of interrelated characters, a destructive lie that some of them know but have never revealed, and the inevitable alienation and desolation that engulfs the individual members of the family in the end. But although Simon’s film has fewer characters and fewer extraneous subplots than Ibsen’s play, it still winds up as a complicated and confusing tale, even though it has some lovely photography, a suitably grim musical score, and the always wonderful presence of Geoffrey Rush.
“The Daughter” opened in West Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd. on Feb. 3.