Daisy Winters is for children and their parents, who were themselves kids in the ‘90s watching films just like this one with their own parents.
Daisy Winters is the sort of film that was made much more often in the heady, happy-go-lucky days of the ‘90s. It is cheerful and optimistic, even while tackling serious and depressing issues, and the ideal viewer is a child. It is didactic and inculcates core U.S.-American values such as good neighborliness, persistence in the face of tragedy and the salience of family. It is darker than similar films from two decades ago, just as these are more cynical days, and it is much more diverse in its casting as well, but, in spite of that, this is a film that one expects to see as a VHS on the shelves of the local video store. It just oozes nostalgia, in a very specific way.
Daisy Winters is about the charismatic titular character, a devil-may-care tween girl in Oregon. Her mother, Sandy (Brooke Shields), has had a years-long struggle with a particularly dedicated strand of cancer, so Daisy has been raised with more independence and less structure than most girls. Sandy, in fact, often clashes with her too straight-laced sister, Margaret (Carrie Preston), about her daughter’s upbringing. Because this is a kids’ movie, the characters are stock and, the adults particularly, one-dimensional.
They are simple characters and the plot is essentially a morality play championing tolerance and relativism. To most adult-in-2017-eyes, Sandy’s parenting is fine, even good, and Margaret’s stuffy close-mindedness is clearly out of touch with the zeitgeist, but Daisy Winters is not about adults’ eyes. This is part of the film’s ‘90s sensibility. Margaret is the scion of “normal” values: discipline at home, church on weekends, steady jobs from both parents and, eventually, a deserved personal prosperity. Sandy is too loose and nonconformist, not to mention never married; the viewer is supposed to be skeptical of her openness to things. This makes the plot’s meanderings towards its destination—which, obviously, is the vindication of Sandy and the trumpeting of twenty-first century social mores—easy to foresee.
While the direction of the story is never a mystery—unless you are a child—Daisy Winters manages to be enjoyable while getting there. It adopts a child’s-eyes perspective of Daisy’s tight-knit neighborhood and shows Daisy getting into all sorts of shenanigans—breaking and entering, bike crashes, attempts to bum rides on a motorcycle and hoisting various objects with a rope and pulleys—with her friend Jackson Kumar (Nick Gore). There are classic ‘90s touches here, too: Daisy uses walkie-talkies, she misspells “pulleys” on a list she carries around and there is even a call back to Home Alone when she employs a handheld voice recorder to trick someone over a landline telephone. This is a film that is socially up-to-date but otherwise delights in being old-fashioned. The PG-13 rating it carries is more a reflection on the backwardness of the MPAA—which is stuck in the ‘50s rather than the ‘90s—than the film’s target audience; even kids’ movies in 2017 should address issues of sexuality and drug addiction.
There are missteps. The biggest is the character of Doug (Iwan Rheon), who is a weed-growing computer hacker who video surveils the neighborhood while eating cookies. Rheon may be even creepier here than he is as the Bastard of Bolton on “Game of Thrones.” Eventually, Daisy Winters normalizes Doug, because he becomes a crucial deus ex machina to make the plot work properly, but his character’s excesses seem out of place here.
Daisy Winters is for children and their parents, who were themselves kids in the ‘90s watching films just like this one with their own parents. It is positive, funny, quick-paced and unabashedly ignores its plot holes while wearing its nostalgia on all of its sleeves. Really, it should be released as a VHS, just because.