As a first-time feature film director, it should come as no surprise that Daniel Wolfe’s upcoming debut Catch Me Daddy was preceded by experience in another form of visual storytelling – music videos. The new feature’s writer/director has instilled his experience in short video production in this release, as though it presents many faults it also is ferociously punchy and energetic for the duration of its plot.
Set in the midlands of England, Yorkshire to be exact, Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed)- a British Asian teenager- and her white boyfriend Aaron (Conor McCarron) have eloped to a neighbouring small village to escape her overbearing paternal family. Yet as most star-crossed teen infatuations go, their humble aspirations are thwarted by Laila’s father and his unwavering disapproval for her decision to abandon the social mores of their traditional muslim community. From the film’s first building blocks we learn the young protagonist has crossed the rigid patriarchal boundaries and now faces the imperilling consequence of an honour killing. Thus, we begin the thriller to the hilt of fast-paced action and tension.
Wolfe’s debut promises a lot with the lyrical depiction of Laila’s story, though it does not always deliver. The elegaic opening of Laila’s Ted Hughes recitation is followed by beautiful if not desolate imagery of the Yorkshire moors. At it’s best the film is a song in mourning for the bleak urban towns of North England. The transition from impoverished mining towns to a new urban beast facing problems of assimilation and gang corruption is evident from the mix of traditional Yorkshire scenes to violent encounters and habitual drug use. Even the everyday provides potent and stark scenes such as when English gangsters, downtrodden middle-aged Tony (Gary Lewis) and his brutish partner Barry (Barry Nunney) collide with the Asian gang in the chipper in their joint search for the girl. The two groups both stop for fuel and though they both share so many similar experiences of the underclass, they cannot communicate even still. In the tiny space of the chip shop, the tension only increases with their closeness and the speaking of two tongues.
The comprehension of immigrants’ culture is called into question in Catch Me Daddy quite effectively. In one striking scene we see Junaid (Anwar Hussain), the leader of the Asian gang, in the shopping centre with his own baby daughter. Off the job, he is a caring and gentle father. But will his own daughters face the chokehold of extremism some day? While there is a lot of social realism stereotypes, this film does continually stress the alienation of humanity, which is emphasized by the contradictory setting of a small country village – something we usually view as warm and close-knit.
Both communities are at a loss here. The familial bond is broken in both, and almost every moment of the film is punctuated by a deep sense of loneliness, even when the young couple Laila and Tony are together. Protagonist Laila’s portrayal of her character has an explosively childlike quality to it, only furthering emphasizing the distance between familial happiness and their circumstances. Everything from her clothing to her giant eyes and excuberant love and appreciation of small things such as cake call out for the broken child in modern Britain. She even clings to her childhood nickname in the hopes it will salvage her bond with her father.
Newcomers Anwar Hussain and Barry Nunney give outstanding performances. Yet, the film lets itself down by following steretypical social realism plotpoints too often, making it somewhat melodramatic at times when it didn’t need to be; it should have had faith in its message, its cinematography and its actors. Perhaps in his next film Daniel Wolfe will have more faith in what he has to say and will excel far more. With Catch Me Daddy he has cast himself and his actors into the ring full force and they all deserve a hand for it.
In cinemas 27 February. Watch the trailer here.