Review: ‘Daddy Issues’ (2020) starring Kimberley Datnow, Tanner Ritterhouse, Alice Carroll Johnson and Francis Lloyd Corby

June 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kimberley Datnow in “Daddy Issues” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Daddy Issues” (2020)

Directed by Laura Holliday

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and briefly in England, the comedy “Daddy Issues” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After her estranged businessman father dies, a British aspiring stand-up comedian follows his dying wish for her to move to Los Angeles and take over his company, but she gets distracted by her attempts to find love.

Culture Audience: “Daddy Issues” will appeal to people who don’t mind watching dull, unimaginative romantic comedies.

Kimberley Datnow and Tanner Ritterhouse in “Daddy Issues” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Since 2018, there have been several feature-length movies with the title “Daddy Issues” (including director Amara Cash’s “Daddy Issues,” also released by Gravitas Ventures), so it’s safe to say that this title has been overused. However, even if the movie had a different title, the 2020 version of “Daddy Issues” (written and directed by Laura Holliday) is so tedious and derivative that it won’t stand out from the pack of low-budget indie flicks that are hopelessly amateurish in concept and execution.

Worst of all, the movie wastes a potentially great opportunity to do a hilarious “fish out of water” story about a British aspiring stand-up comedian who finds herself having to lead an American corporate business. That’s supposed to be the premise for “Daddy Issues,” which stars Kimberley Datnow (who’s also the movie’s producer) as irresponsible slacker Henrietta “Henri” Norton Phillips.

At the behest of her late father’s dying wishes, Henri has to move from England to Los Angeles to take over his company.  Instead, the movie largely abandons this concept to focus on Henri’s pathetic attempts to find love by tracking down and trying to cling to ex-boyfriends she used to have when she lived in Los Angeles during her college years.

The movie opens with Henri (who is in her late 20s) in England, sitting on her apartment bed with a date. She’s more interested in looking at a replay of her stand-up comedy act on her laptop than making out with this guy. She knows so little about him that she can’t even remember that his name is Charlie.

They spend the night together, but before he goes, Henri makes Charlie do a Zoom conference call with her mother and siblings and other family members. Without giving him any time to think about it, right before the call connects, she tells Charlie that he has to pretend that he’s her boyfriend. And there’s another catch: Henri is doing this video conference call while the family is at her father’s graveside during his funeral.  Can you saw “awkward” and “tacky”?

This scene (which isn’t very funny) is meant to show that Henri is kind of crazy and that she has “daddy issues.” When her relatives at the funeral ask her why she isn’t there in person, Henri answers, “As if Dad would’ve cared anyway.”

Henri might not have cared much for her father, but apparently he thought enough about her to saddle her with a big responsibility: Move to Los Angeles and take over his corporate company (which is called Norton Phillips) after he dies. (The movie’s screenwriting is so lazy that it’s never made clear what type of business industry that Norton Phillips is supposed to represent.)

Henri finds out that she has to completely upend her life when she discovers a letter that her father had written to her not long before he passed away. In the letter, he says he wants Henri to take over the business so that she can have a “real” job, instead of pursuing stand-up comedy, which her father calls a “hobby.” (Henri’s father is not seen in the movie, but he can be heard in voiceover.)

So off Henri goes to Los Angeles, a city she’s familiar with because she split her childhood time between living in London and Los Angeles because of her parents’ divorce. Henri also went to college in Los Angeles, so she reconnects with her old pals (three women and one openly gay man) who still live in the area by inviting them over to her Los Angeles house, which was previously owned by her father. Henri’s family seems to be fairly well-off, but she’s no country club kid, and they’re definitely not very rich, based on the basic L.A. house that she has in this story.

Henri hasn’t seen her Los Angeles friends for about five years. All of them seem to be living responsible adult lives, except for Henri, who still wants to party like a college kid. There are several scenes in the movie of Henri guzzling wine and other alcoholic drinks in order to get drunk.

While going through some of her possessions from her teenage years, Henri comes across her Boy Box, where she kept mementos and contact information of all the guys she dated back then. Henri and her friends have a laugh over what’s in the box, including angst-ridden love notes that Henri used to write.

Henri also finds something else in the house: a “meet cute” moment with an unexpected tenant. A guy named Nolan (played by Tanner Ritterhouse) surprises Henri when he comes out of the bathroom. When Henri asks who he is and what he’s doing there, Nolan replies that he’s an employee of her father’s company. Nolan also says that he’s been renting a room in the house while he remodels the house deck. And how long has he been living there? Four or five years.

Instead of kicking him out, Henri lets Nolan stay and makes a snide remark that technically she’s his boss now and could fire him. (You can immediately see where this movie is going as soon as she makes the decision to let Nolan stay in the house.) Henri has been an inactive board member of her father’s company, but she plans to let everyone know that she’s now in charge.

This concept of Henri taking over the business isn’t too far-fetched, since there are plenty of real-life examples of inexperienced people taking leadership roles due to nepotism. Henri’s big boss moment doesn’t happen in quite the way that she expects. When she has her first boardroom meeting with the company’s senior executives (who are all men), she gives what she thinks is a great pep talk.

The executives react with boredom and disrespect. When Henri reminds them that she’s an executive vice-president of the board, one of the executives replies dismissively, “Some titles don’t require responsibility,” before he and the rest of the suits rudely file out of the room.

Henri’s immaturity is on cringeworthy display when she gets to know a company employee named Terrance (played by Max Crandall), a nebbish type who’s been trying to start a side business of handmade wooden figurines. When Terrance mentions to Henri that her father contributed to his Kickstarter campaign for the business, Henri bursts into tears and wails to Terrance: “How come my father supported your nerdy hobby and not mine?”

Then the movie goes off on a tangent by having an entire subplot about Henri’s lesbian friend Alice (played by Alice Carroll Johnson), who’s pretending to Henri and other friends that she’s a hotshot agent at a talent agency. In reality, Alice has a very low-paying job at the agency and she’s drowning in personal debt.

Alice is in a committed relationship with a girlfriend, but that doesn’t stop Alice from coming up with the desperate idea to try to find a “sugar daddy” on the website Seeking Arrangement. That leads to a series of dates, which won’t be described here, because this subplot really doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. Actually, the idea of a young, good-looking lesbian using her physical appearance to hook older men for money should have been its own movie.

Nolan also gets his own subplot, because he’s dating a single mother named Grace (played by Martha Hamilton), who doesn’t want to introduce Nolan to her 4-year-old daughter unless it’s a serious relationship. Therefore, Nolan is having his own “daddy issues” because he’s in that gray zone of dating a single mother without knowing her child. The relationship has also made him wonder if he’s ready to take on the responsibility of being a “stepfather” figure if he’s eventually going to be introduced to Grace’s daughter.

Meanwhile, Henri goes through her Boy Box and starts calling her ex-boyfriends to see which ones are available. There’s a montage of her doing this cold-calling that’s supposed to be funny, but it’s very poorly acted and badly written. Henri finds more than one ex-boyfriend who’s available, including a neat freak named Hunter (Francis Lloyd Corby). And let’s just say that she turns into an irrationally jealous stalker.

It’s kind of puzzling that writer/director Holliday and lead actor/producer Datnow would make this Henri character so repulsive when people are supposed to root for the protagonist in romantic comedies. That doesn’t mean that the protagonist has to be “sweet,” “passive” or even “likable” (see Amy Schumer in the 2015 hit comedy “Trainwreck”), but it’s about the protagonist being “relatable” to audiences in some way. Most people just can’t relate to Henri being such a relentlessly miserable and selfish brat who takes pleasure in hurting people when things don’t go her way.

And it’s easy to see why Henri’s stand-up comedy career is going nowhere: She’s awful and boring. Here’s an example of one of the lines she says in her stand-up act: “Internet service is a lot like my father: It doesn’t do what it promises and then dies.”

It’s not a good sign that the stand-up comedy scenes in “Daddy Issues” also use pre-recorded laugh tracks. And much of the pacing in this “comedy” is off-kilter—and not in a good way. The actors lack chemistry with each other and there are many scenes where the acting looks stilted and uncomfortable.

In the production notes for “Daddy Issues,” Datnow says that she was influenced by classic female-oriented comedies of the 1990s and 2000s, such as “Clueless” and “Mean Girls.” There are some definite influences from both movies that are seen in “Daddy Issues.” The Boy Box is a nod to the Burn Book in “Mean Girls.” And the ending of “Daddy Issues” is completely predictable to anyone who’s seen “Clueless.”

The casting for “Daddy Issues” is also stuck in a previous decade, since this movie is supposed to take place in Los Angeles (which has a very large Latino population), but there are no Latino people in sight in this “Daddy Issues” movie. Even if the casting choices were more racially diverse, it wouldn’t necessarily solve the movie’s biggest problems: the substandard screenplay and annoying performance from Datnow. Unfortunately, this “Daddy’s Issues” movie fails to live up to its potential.

Gravitas Ventures released “Daddy Issues” on digital and VOD on June 23, 2020.