By: Trevor Chartrand
Director Wendy Morgan has made an interesting and thought-provoking film with her drama Sugar Daddy. The movie features the story of Darren, an aspiring musician who joins a paid dating service to make ends meet until her music career takes off. While acting as arm candy for wealthy older guys at high society functions is by no means prostitution, Darren struggles with her own self-worth and the moral implications of selling herself as a commodity. This forward-thinking film is well-made as a discussion piece about some slightly controversial subject matter.
Written by and starring Kelly McCormack (Barn Wedding), Sugar Daddy is partly a character-study, and partly debate fodder. Sincerely, I could see the implications of the film being discussed in a sociology class after having watched it in a lecture hall. The film presents a raw, visceral story about some moral grey areas undefined by society. We see all the sides and angles of a situation and the viewer is left to determine for themselves what is right or wrong, and what boundaries are okay to cross or not cross. While the film works as an unbiased conversation starter in that way, watching the film isn’t unlike reading a textbook as a result – it can be a tad monotonous.
To balance the equation out, the film does give us a healthy dose of emotion and drama with McCormack’s portrayal of the fiery and unpredictable Darren. Our lead character is, unfortunately though, a bit out of touch with an attitude that tends to irritate. As a spaced-out starving artist with her head in the clouds, she doesn’t always seem to grasp reality and the ways of the world. She’s the type of person who will start singing random arbitrary melodies in public at full volume for attention. The character tends to be obnoxious and off-putting but to be clear, McCormack’s performance is great – fantastic even. She has crafted a fully developed, well-rounded and deep character with her portrayal of Darren. While the acting is on-point, the likability of the character is where the film is most lacking.
The film is very much focused on Darren, leaving other characters feeling mostly peripheral. Intriguing and mysterious side characters, such as the titular Sugar Daddy himself, Gordon (Colm Feore) are not given a whole lot of room for development. Feore’s character is soft spoken and resilient, never seeming phased or uncomfortable in the face of some very unorthodox situations. The mystery of the character is intriguing, sure, but there’s just not quite enough there to understand what truly makes him tick.
The overall look of the film is generally grungy and dark, and intentionally so. We’re dealing with murky subject matter here in a very murky, darkened world. Visually, the lack of color or vibrancy reflects quite effectively with the film’s intended tone.
The film is not completely colorless though, with splashes of saturated tones featured heavily in the film’s musical sequences. That’s right, much like 2019’s Joker, the filmmakers behind Sugar Daddy decided to include plenty of nonsensical dance breaks throughout the film. Justified by Darren’s own songwriting aspirations, the music is well-produced and reflects the character’s frame of mind for the most part.
The music video sequences do eventually outstay their welcome, however, and the most frustrating part of the film is its complete lack of a satisfying ending. Instead of anchoring the story with a strong conclusion, the just film sort of… fizzles out in an incredibly unsatisfactory way – with ten minutes of our protagonist writhing around on the floor to techno music, as if possessed by a demon of some kind. Some might call it ‘open-ended’ or ‘subject to interpretation,’ but it’s frustrating when the film isn’t bold enough to take a stance and resolve a conversation it has started.
An interesting film to discuss and think about, but with such a vague and arbitrary ending, it’s hard to understand the filmmaker’s intention of the piece as a whole. Overall, Sugar Daddy is a great conversation starter, but the irritating main character and lack of a clear narrative conclusion could be off-putting to some viewers.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor