Reel Reviews | Daruma (Slamdance 2024)

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

What do you do when you find out that you have a child from a long-forgotten one-night stand and the child’s mother dies?  You take her in of course as seen in Daruma.

Morally reprehensible wheelchair-bound military veteran, Patrick (Tobias Forrest) discovers he has a four-year-old daughter from a one-night stand years ago. He agrees to take her in mainly to become the beneficiary of her mother’s life insurance policy.  Soon Patrick discovers, like everyone around him, that he’s not fit to be a parent and that she’d do better living with her maternal grandparents on the East Coast. Unable to drive and reluctant to fly for fear of damaging his wheelchair, Patrick enlists the help of his cantankerous neighbor Robert (John W. Lawson) to drive them. Along the way, they discover the meaning of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and what it truly means to be a family.

Written by Kelli McNeil-Yellen based upon the 2018 short film of the same name, Daruma stars Forrest and Lawson with Barry Bostwick, Abigail Hawk, and Victoria Scott as Camilla.  The film is directed by Alexander Yellen.

Award-winning cinematographer and director, Alexander Yellen has worked on the television series Euphoria (2022) and Z Nation (2014-2018) and directed the shorts Daruma (2018) and Dead End Drive (2020).  Daruma is Yellen’s first feature theatrical release.

Daruma has been lauded for its authenticity and is the first known feature film to star two leads with physical disabilities in a narrative not about overcoming a disability. Both Forrest and Lawson have extensive acting careers yet neither of them had been cast in the lead role for a feature film.  (Forrest worked with Yellen in Dead End Drive and both Forrest and Lawson worked in Daruma the short.)

While Daruma is not about overcoming disabilities of the actors, it is about overcoming shortcomings which is a unifying factor.  It is pleasant but predictable to see the evolution of Patrick throughout the film.  Yet, his evolution is organic and honest making it completely relatable. 

Honest and relatable is the work of five-year-old Victoria Scott.  She plays Patrick’s daughter, Camilla.  She is pretty good in her work as a precocious and loving character who forces everyone around her to be better.  According to Director Yellen and the rest of the cast, Scott was a professional, never missing her mark or forgetting her lines.  Yellen also commented that she accepted direction well and that was never a problem. 

Daruma is a heart-warming tale of how to pick yourself up and move forward in life when it seems impossible.

Grade:  C+