Anthony Shim’s drama Daughter is so much a product of Vancouver that the Georgia Straight’s escort ads are featured in one of its earliest scenes. Less glaringly, the film grew out of the Railtown Actors Studio, where former student Shim was working as an instructor when he handed a script to studio cofounder and movie-TV veteran John Cassini.
Relates Cassini: “He literally said to me, ‘I’ve written a lot in my life; I think it’s all been shit. This might be good—will you read it?’ ” It was only a few hours later, according to Shim, that he received a text insisting, “We could just shoot this thing as written, tomorrow, and it would work.” Some months later, Shim is the writer-director of the film tapped for VIFF 2019’s B.C. Spotlight gala.
Daughter begins with Cassini’s character, Jim, setting up headquarters in a luxury penthouse suite for a nightly routine of booze, sex, and oblivion. Flashbacks clue us in to his situation: successful in commercial real estate but divorced, with a barely teenage daughter (Jordyn Ashley Olson) whose own unhappy situation is established in the film’s prologue.
“It’s not like I was trying to make the most likable character,” Cassini says in a call to the Georgia Straight. “A lot of times, the characters we play, it’s before they go to therapy. It’s before they’ve worked shit out. And what he’s doing is trying to fill a void, trying to fill a hole that is so painful, and he’s not prepared on how to do it.”
Gradually, new escort Nikki (Teagan Vincze) shows up and triggers some self-awareness in her dissipated client, whereupon the film gambles on a largely uninterrupted, 22-minute, psychological pas de deux between the two characters. It comes as no surprise that both actor and director mention John Cassavetes as an influence on the production.
“Carrying a long scene is not something out of John or Teagan’s element. It’s what they excel at,” Shim notes in a separate call. “To me, that’s the film. If that doesn’t work, the film doesn’t work. There was no Plan B.”
With that, Daughter hurtles toward its cathartic finish. What lingers is the film’s benevolent reading of a lost middle-aged man and the 26-year-old woman who helps him rediscover his humanity, planted inside a low-key critique of patriarchal violence and male self-loathing. Cassini recalls sobbing over one of the screenplay’s more emotionally truthful moments and wondering: “Where does this guy get the maturity?” Shim thinks that Daughter—which was speed-blurted onto the page when writer’s block stalled an entirely different project—simply taps into the most universal impulses.
“I’m not a middle-aged white male, I had a Korean father; I grew up as an immigrant,” the 33-year-old filmmaker says, “but these are just the questions and challenges all men should have.”