By: Trevor Chartrand
Donkeyhead is the first feature film from writer/director Agam Darshi, who has extensive credits both in front of and behind the camera. Her film focuses on Mona (played by Darshi herself), the least-successful sibling among the four brothers and sisters in her family. As a failed writer, she is the only one among them who still lives at home, aimless in her pursuits with no job and no prospects. Instead of pursuing a career, she has stayed home the last seven years to take care of her dying father; which arguably could be a self-righteous excuse for why her life seems to be stalled. When her father ends up in a coma after a stroke, doctors warn Mona her dad’s time is up. The rest of her siblings return home to pay their final respects and, with everyone collected for the first time in years, old tensions rise and the family struggles to stick together in the face of the impending loss of their father.
With a somewhat aimless, slice-of-life atmosphere, Donkeyhead is very thin in the narrative department. Darshi’s characters don’t have goals they’re working towards, and not much seems to be at stake for them. What unfolds onscreen instead is a character-driven story featuring four siblings arguing with each other while waiting out their father’s inevitable death. There are several plot threads that lead nowhere, including a great deal of screen time spent discussing leaky pipes in the bathroom that need fixing. Ultimately, the unnecessary leaky pipes story has no resolution, or any real impact on the overall plot, despite being featured prominently. I suppose the broken pipes could be some type of metaphor for the family and their broken relationships, but that’s a reach.
The film ultimately meanders aimlessly from scene to scene, as a result of this unfocused narrative. While the character drama may be compelling, there’s no inciting incident or call to action to glue these scenes together. Sure, the characters are well-defined, their personalities clash in entertaining ways, but the filmmakers fail to give the audience any conclusive reason to get involved in this story. Donkeyhead ultimately boils down to a showcase of the day-to-day of lives of a dysfunctional family during their patriarch’s final days. It’s executed in a tasteful, realistic way, but real life can be dull, and in this case depressing, and that’s not what we usually go to the movies to see.
Having said that, this film is not without merit. The cast and the characters they portray are very strong, and credit is certainly due to the actors and their direction from Darshi. The players create both effective tension and chemistry as a family unit, each creating a unique character with a complete personality. The film has an incredibly satisfying feel throughout; a very relatable sense of going home, capturing that feeling of reconnecting with family. There’s unspoken tensions and arguments, but also moments of great joy and love. In that sense, this film succeeds with its wholesome tone – the strength of family during trying times.
Donkeyhead does work as a character study, especially with its incredibly grounded nature. Despite its aimlessness, the characters and their collective struggles are just captivating enough to draw an audience in. This drama would be more effective with a stronger sense of narrative purpose, but it does function amicably enough on the strength of its characters alone.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor