Review by David Baldwin
Darren (Kelly McCormack, who also Wrote and Produced) is a talented musician filled with ambition and big dreams. Unfortunately, she’s broke and stuck slaving away at odd jobs. After being let go from yet another part-time gig, she signs up for a “Sugar Daddy” dating website — and ends up getting into more than she bargained for.
Sugar Daddy is the kind of picture that grows on you gradually. I did not think much of it when I first sat down to watch, yet found myself drawn to Darren’s journey of self-discovery as the film moved through its initial set-ups. It is raw, unflinching and due to the 4:3 aspect ratio, highly claustrophobic. It is not hard to watch in the least (the framing does give it a very intimate and candid feel), but it also never gives the easy answers. Should we be cheering and hoping for the best for Darren, even as she treats everyone around her so horribly? She is not quite an anti-hero nor is she particularly likeable.
And that is perfectly acceptable — McCormack’s fearless performance does not really leave room for caring what people think of Darren, both on-screen and off. She is who she is, and she will not have anyone stand in the way of who she wants to become. She imbues the film with an edge that it maintains for its entire running time. It’s a very lived-in portrayal, and I think if it was done any other way, it would not feel nearly as honest as it does. Some of the subplots around her go underdeveloped or unresolved, and I was not really a huge fan of the more avant garde dance sequences. But McCormack makes everything just as compelling as it needs to be. The supporting cast surrounding her is fairly solid across the board, with Ishan Davé, Amanda Brugel and Colm Feore all giving stand out performances.
All of that said, I am curious if McCormack always intended on being the lead here. The centre-piece scene of the film features multiple characters discussing their frank opinions on escorts and sex work. Darren is initially involved in the conversation, and then quite literally stands on the sidelines and watches everyone else discuss. It’s an interesting and palpable moment, not just because of how brutally honest the dialogue is but because of how the lead, who often uncomfortably wrestles the spotlight away from everyone in nearly every other scene, stops dead in her tracks to listen to what everyone else has to say. It is an important scene and I totally understand why she does not have her character really speak through it. I am just not sure if she would have had someone else playing Darren act the same way.
Sugar Daddy opens the Canadian Film Festival on Super Channel Fuse
at 9pm tonight, Thursday April 1, 2021.
It will be available on Digital and VOD starting Tuesday April 6, 2021.