A young chef tries to booze and bang the pain away in director Peter Mackie Burns’ engaging, charming comic drama Daphne. Set in London, in a largely nocturnal landscape of fleeting pleasures and unacknowledged hurts, it makes for a timely study of young angst.
Millennials are a sordid bunch, it seems. What with the drugs, the music, the dating apps and the intergenerational angst, it’s a wonder they manage to hold down jobs. One young woman who’s struggling in that department is the title character of Daphne, which takes a sympathetic look at a self-destructive London-dwelling chef whose spiky disregard for the people around her is starting to take its toll. Daphne (Emily Beecham) is thirty-one and doing her best to be dead from the neck up. When not working in a fashionable looking London restaurant, she reads Slavoj Žižek, hoovers up other people’s drugs and looks for quick, emotionally-disengaged sexual flings.
Daphne thinks that Freud was right when he said that love is a form of psychosis and happily admits that she’s given up on people. Luckily, they haven’t given up on her and she has an understanding boss (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) as well as a potential boyfriend in waiting (Nathaniel Martello-White) who want to help soften her prickly instincts. Things take one more turn for the worse, however, when she’s witness to a violent attack in a corner shop, but it also opens the door for her to potentially confront some of the physic pain in her life which she’s been trying to ignore.
The use of Steadicam, as well as shots framed from behind bars, windows or sofas, lends an intimacy to the film which suits its subject matter. The cast are all excellent, and whilst Nico Mensiga’s script at times feels like it’s running through a check-list of millennial signifiers (there’s something a little contradictory about someone who likes to read the foremost Marxist critic of our day, whilst also engaging in the sort of foodie cuisine festishism which is an obvious hallmark of ‘lifestyle’ consumerism), it contains genuine pathos and wit in equal abundance. The film’s flaws are minor compared to those of Daphne the character, but just like the troubled soul at the heart of this engaging 90-minute drama: a high level of charm is retained in spite of whatever’s wrong.