A big-city thirtysomething, numbed by her endless pursuit of pleasure, finds her life turned around when she witnesses a violent crime
Fortunately or otherwise, this resembles something from TV, the award-winning 2016 comedy Fleabag written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, all about the unhappy, sexually adventurous and self-destructive woman in London: young, posh, white. In this film – written by Nico Mensinga and directed by Peter Mackie Burns, feature first-timers – it is Daphne, played with a potent and blank kind of restraint by Emily Beecham, who is on her own in the city; she has a demanding job as a chef in a busy restaurant, but Daphne is uninterested in that, her tiresome mother, or her clingy friends from uni. She’s more interested in sex with strangers, coke, alcohol and the pure delicious pleasure of not caring any more about other people or herself. It could be a pleasure that people of her age are largely too timid or unattractive to pursue.
This film suffers in comparison with Fleabag, just a bit. It doesn’t have Fleabag’s brilliant comic set pieces, and Beecham doesn’t have Waller-Bridge’s prerogative of doing witty monologues direct to camera. But Daphne is doing something different by not going for laughs, and, in cinema terms, the film interestingly doesn’t have the distinctive unreality of Brit social realism. It doesn’t insist on a hallucinatory beauty in the gritty cityscape to offset the tough lives. The nearest we come to that is an eerie overhead shot, as if from a high window or a surveillance camera angled down, showing Daphne drunkenly teetering across the pavement in the middle of the day.
Unlike most social realism, it is about an articulate adult from a comfortable background; she reads Slavoj Žižek in her downtime and toe-curlingly corrects other people’s mispronunciation. Yet this is not necessarily absurd or delusional. For all her vulnerability and high-wire emotional recklessness she is not a victim.