Iconic NZ songs narrate inner lives in Daffodils – but this is where it runs into trouble

New Zealand musical romance Daffodils comes to cinemas this week. Inspired by a true story and adapted from a stage show, the film features reworkings of classic Kiwi songs from the likes of Crowded House, Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn, Darcy Clay and the Mint Chicks.

There’s good stuff here, Flicks critic Tony Stamp writes, but the film’s central flaws are too big to ignore.

Let’s start with the good stuff: Daffodils, based on the play by Rochelle Bright, is a movie that could only have come out of New Zealand. Its Hamilton setting feels distinct, and its playlist is expertly curated. This is a musical, you see, and it features some of our best songs, a series of iconic hits which I’m always happy to see/hear acknowledged (though a few more Māori/Pasifika-tinged numbers wouldn’t have gone astray).

The framing device has pop singer Kimbra in the present day, telling us the story of her parents’ relationship. Her character sings in a covers band, performing songs which seep into the 1960s/70s/80s flashbacks that make up the bulk of the film.

It’s anachronism all the way: Bic Runga’s ‘Drive’ pops up early on, as does The Mint Chicks’ ‘Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!’. ‘There Is No Depression In New Zealand’ heralds the arrival of the ’80s—around the time it would have been on NZ radio—then segues into Darcy Clay’s ‘Jesus I Was Evil’, which wasn’t released until much later. The idea is to have the songs narrate the characters’ inner lives, but this is where Daffodils runs into trouble.

Rose McIver handles the Darcy song, but… WAS she evil? Not really. These characters and the story they’re part of feel at the mercy of the songs, which are often inserted in ways that don’t make total sense.

Which leads to Daffodils’ biggest flaw: the central plot contrivance is sitcom-level dumb, and could be solved with a five-minute conversation. It’s frustrating, and while it quite possibly did happen (the play was based on Bright’s parents’ relationship), within the logic of a movie it seems woefully contrived, more an excuse to pop in a Dave Dobbyn song than a series of explainable events.

McIver and co-lead George Mason acquit themselves admirably in the singing and acting departments, but in the end, it all rings hollow, no matter how much director David Stubbs juices up the melodrama. You’ll feel multiple waves of nostalgia during Daffodils, but on reflection, you might feel a bit cheated.