I've seen the screenwriter Isobel Lennart's name on a few standout films, and she seems consistently to write about people who love and support each other and give each other encouragement, and whose conficts arise from this very love and consideration for each other's feelings more than what they want for themselves. I noticed this in the very underrated "It Happened in Brooklyn" and "Fitzwilly" and again in this film.
"Daisies" isn't a slapstick family movie about the kids' antics but a serious portrait of the marriage between Doris Day and David Niven and the crisis over his career as a theatre critic (based on the reality of Mary and Walter Kerr). The central conflict is whether Niven, a frustrated playwright turned critic, is in danger of becoming a witty personality who skewers others' works. The answer is: not really. His values are still solid but he has to prove it. Doris worries about him and has wanted them to leave NY for a suburb. They do move but it's a compromise for both--like marriage and life.
The script doesn't cut away after a punch line; it leaves characters to deal with the situation. Perfect example: restaurant scene where an actress who feels insulted by a review slaps his face, humiliating him just as his wife walks in. If this were some stupid movie, he'd be spluttering while the music razzed him and we faded out, or he'd promptly get in a new fight with his wife who wanted to know who was that woman slapping his face, or you can write it yourself. Instead, his wife grasps the situation perfectly and sits down to brazen out their lunch while smiling diners look on; they support each other, share how angry they feel and go on with their lives as they must. There's a wonderful lengthy scene where the situation turns into a real argument in their apartment about his preferring to stay in NY, admitting that it's nice for the first time to be a receiving some attention as a writer, it's what he's doing to support them, etc, while she sees her dreams of the country and "saving" him recede from her, and it doesn't at all sound like a contrived movie argument. They're not bickering for our amusement, like Doris & Rock. They have points of view that are slightly but significantly different, and best of all, the scene leaves them standing there while it hangs in the air; they move apart and change the subject before they go too far, having some breathing room as she goes into the kitchen to make sandwiches and think, and then approaches it with fresh psychology that concedes this and that and makes him concede the move to the country, and they both understand perfectly what's going on. I thought "This writer knows how civilized couples argue."
I could also go on about the actress, essentially an "other woman" role who tries to vamp Niven and is initially presented as merely a bad actress. She comes across as a woman who frankly understands her world and isn't trying to put something over on Niven that he's not smart enough to handle. He admits to being flattered and even coming to like her, and that's it. How well you can imagine another movie with the vixen laying traps for the hapless guy and Doris stumbling across some info about them having lunch and getting jealous etc., but that's just not how Lennart handles it. Doris doesn't worry about this individual but the general nature of her husband's new life, what it means for the family, and above all how it affects Niven himself.
I will repeat one exchange that probably comes from Mary Kerr's book. It was funny, but it's an example of what the screenplay really was NOT: a string of zingers. They did keep dropping dry comments out of Kerr, but there was more substance than that. So the whole family is looking at the house they bought, which looks like the Addams Family's, and one kid says "It's like out of Ivanhoe." Dad says "Oh, I'm afraid it's much older than that." Then another kid says "Why is it so big?" Doris says "Because we couldn't afford anything smaller."
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