‘Daisy Winters’ Review – Variety

Four months after writer-director Beth LaMure wrapped production on her first movie, “Daisy Winters,” she took her own life. Her spirit is palpable in the film she’d just finished editing, a small, but clearly heartfelt story about an 11-year-old named Daisy (Sterling Jenkins) who is obsessed with death — and with good reason. Her single mother Sandy (Brooke Shields) has been battling cancer for five years, and if mom loses the fight, orphaned Daisy will be forced to live with Aunt Margaret (Carrie Preston), a kid-spanking snob eager to instill discipline in the morbid child. What happens next is at once improbable and emotionally sincere, a Hallmark card with warped edges, and a strong central performance by Jenkins (“Paterson,” “The Conjuring”), who’s a young actress to watch.

Five minutes into the film, it’s clear that Daisy is an unusually brutal girl. She’s at the dinner table when her mother’s best friend Suzy (Kathy Takada) announces that she’s fallen in love with a new girlfriend. In response, Daisy hastily shovels in her spaghetti so she can read Suzy an after-dinner poem she’s written called “Pills.” It’s about Suzy’s last breakup and suicide attempt, and Jenkins delivers the lines with the stern judgment of the immature. The subtext stings: Don’t get that weak again.

Everything about Daisy is dramatic, including the giant graphics on her T-shirts: a huge heart, a big flower, a scuffed-up smiley face, a flock of bats. At school, she writes more poems with titles like “Fear” in her fiddly cursive while her classmates scratch out trifles about cats. When someone tells her a sad story about their childhood, she laughs. One day, while walking to class with her best friend Jackson (Nick Gore), she wagers that their next-door neighbor is dead. This is the kind of movie where she’s right.

Can you blame Aunt Margaret for attempting to confiscate Daisy’s DVD of “Harold and Maude”? The script does: It shuns all forms of emotional repression. Instead, LaMure lavishes attention on Daisy and Sandy’s loving bond. They fight, and more than once, Shields, soft-voiced and fretful, stares at the girl like she hatched from an egg. More often, however, LaMure delights in shooting them circled up together on a chair like twins with their matching long brown hair and thick eyebrows.

Daisy Winters whisks through montages of bliss: the pair making cookies, unwrapping presents, clinking glasses…

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