It’s hard to figure out what the intention is with this movie. Sometimes it seems like a off-beat comedy, with Natalie Wood’s Daisy and Ruth Gordon’s Mrs. Clover as a ditzy, dysfunctional family. At other times, Inside Daisy Clover seems a bit deeper; a send-up of Hollywood, with Daisy as an aspiring actress. Then, it’s sort of a musical too. The problem, as everyone notices, is that Natalie Wood is almost twice the age of her character. She not only looks too old (her nearly platinum hair, cut so short, doesn’t help), but she acts so confident, so nonchalant, that she’s not merely spunky, she’s just nervy and histrionic. Daisy seems entirely superficial, overreacting to everything, not focusing on anything.
Ironically, the choreographed song and dance numbers and the black & white newsreel scenes are quite good, even though it’s not Natalie Wood’s voice that we hear. Those bits also help to place the action in the ’30s. The pier setting features ’30s cars, a victrola, and some archaic signage to evoke the earlier era, but the dilapidated buildings look as they probably did in 1965, just like they’ve been sitting there for thirty years. The wedding scene at Swan’s mansion, with the parade of black limousines circling the driveway, is memorable. But then we’re right back into another dilapidated spot–the desert adobe motel.
Christopher Plummer is interesting as the slick, smarmy movie mogul Raymond Swan (great name too). Looking very Gatsby-like, Robert Redford is the dapper, convincingly dissipated, world-weary actor Wade Lewis. On the other hand, Daisy’s sister Gloria (Betty Harford) seems just nutty. She fits in with Daisy’s family, but it’s hard to see how she could’ve been successful in Hollywood. It’s up to Plummer and Redford to carry the plot. As Swan’s wife Melora (another great Hollywood name), Katherine Bard plays a sort of tony version of Daisy’s mom. I suppose Wade’s marriage to Daisy is explicable only as a career move on Wade’s part; his implicit gayness pretty much dooms anything more than a platonic relationship with Daisy.
Things get almost surreal when Daisy discovers her mother lying in bed, dead, the signature deck of playing cards tossed about like leaves. At this point, having had her husband desert her and her mom die, she understandably loses it. It’s clear that she’s been used by just about everyone around her. Even Swan, who sees more in her than anyone else, she’s merely an investment, a commodity. Also an object of lust. Her suicide attempt is disturbing, to say the least. Usually a movie suicide is more or less off-screen–we see an open window and then a guy dead on the sidewalk; but here it’s horrific, we see her try it, again and again. But it’s not just horrible, it’s weird. The phone and doorbell distractions are almost comical; she marches around, so determined, with that odd over-acting that’s maybe ok for a song and dance routine, not a suicide attempt.
It’s not unexpected that she ends up doing something completely different, and nearly as irrational. By blowing up the house, and just walking away, it means…what? That she’s as impulsive as she was in the beginning. So nothing’s really changed, she’s definitely a long ways from growing up; or, to say it another way, she’s become her mom. Inside Daisy Clover is more gimmicky than entertaining, like watching three movies at once. There’s a lot of thought evident in this mash-up of dreams. 6/10.