Tuesday, August 11, 2009


In 1936, a 16-year-old tomboyish (and mentally unbalanced) urchin named Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood), tired of a drab life on the Angel Beach boardwalk with her aging, senile mother, sends out a homemade audition film to film studios, hoping to break into the movies. Studio boss Ray Swan (Christopher Plummer) signs her up and gets the star-making machinery going, pushing her as a kind of teenage Shirley Temple. Her first movie is a hit, but handsome movie star Wade Lewis (Robert Redford) sweeps her off her feet, marries her, then leaves her on their wedding night--he's apparently a bisexual playboy who had a similar affair with Swan's wife, leading her to attempt suicide. Then Daisy's mom dies and, while finishing up some lip-syncing for her new movie, Daisy has a breakdown. She, too, tries suicide, but eventually finds the inner strength to forge her own life, which would seem to be outside of the studio system.

The film is based on a novel by Gavin Lambert, and the title character may have been inspired by Judy Garland, but only barely. Garland was a show-biz pro from a young age and her downfall was initiated by the drugs her studio gave her to keep up a hectic schedule (though she also had entanglements with bisexual men). Daisy Clover's problem seems to be deep-seated mental illness--or at least, that’s what Wood’s unintentionally comical over-the-top performance would indicate. Wood is flat-out terrible, though her failure isn’t all her fault; the character goes from 15 to 17, and the miscast Wood, who was 27, never looks anything like a teenager--and no attempt is made to give the film a real 30’s look. Her best scene is her breakdown in the recording booth. Redford is handsome and shows some flair in one of his first starring roles, though he mostly vanishes halfway through. Roddy McDowell is wasted in the small and unimportant role of Plummer's secretary. The only standouts in the cast are Ruth Gordon as Daisy’s nutty mom and Katharine Bard who gets a couple of juicy scenes as Plummer's wife. There is one interesting musical number, "The Circus Is a Wacky World," which we see being filmed for one of Daisy's movies from behind the scenes; the song’s lyrics explicitly (and perhaps ham-handedly) draw a parallel between the artifice of the circus and the artifice of Hollywood. Otherwise, this isn't worth your time. Some critics speak of the ambiguity surrounding the Redford character's sexuality, but it's not a mystery: Plummer quite plainly states that Redford is compelled to have sex with many partners, both men and women. [DVD]

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