Review by Dan Skip Allen
Films about people with disabilities or diseases aren't anything new in Hollywood or foreign countries' film industries. Even films featuring the main character with Down syndrome have been done before, most recently The Peanut Butter Falcon in 2019. The New Zealander film Poppy is the latest film featuring a main character with Down syndrome.
Poppy (Libby Hunsdale) is a young woman who has Down syndrome. She's relatively high functioning. She even works at her father's automotive shop with her brother (Ari Boyland). Her brother is not dealing with a recent tragedy very well. She's trying to become more independent. The first step is getting her license to drive. Her brother though doesn't think a person with her disability should have much freedom. She finds a friend who will help her, though, in a local busker (Seb Hunter). The two become quite close.
This film has a lot to say about various topics including Down syndrome, alcoholism, and responsibilities. This is a very educational movie with topics a lot of people can learn from. This disability featured in the film is usually one that has to have a lot of supervision, but Poppy has the drive to want to be on her own and be independent. Having a boyfriend, driver's license, and a paying job help her with this.
The filmmaker, Linda Niccol, who's also the film's writer, gives Poppy a lot of obstacles for her to overcome. One of them is her brother. She has enough going on in her life already and her brother is something she never thought she'd have problems with. His alcoholism is quite the problem for both of them. She has more of a mature nature as a disabled person than he does. Her drive to succeed in life no matter what helps her deal with these obstacles.
Aside from Ari Boyland, the other actors in the film are relative newcomers to acting. Especially Libby Hunsdale. Still, she seems very seasoned with the various scenes she has and all the emotions she has to go through. The romantic scenes, as well as the action sequences, show she knows what she's doing. Having Boyland to work off of is just what she needs to stretch herself as an actor. Niccol gets the most out of this newbie and the film is better off because of it.
Niccol shows she deeply cares for this subject matter and the young actress who portrays the main character. She has a lot to overcome but handles it all like a seasoned pro. This film handles a person with Down syndrome very respectively. It shows that these people can be productive citizens in civilization. They are people that need love and care and this film shows that from various angles. Niccol was the perfect director/writer for this material.
Poppy is screening at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival, which runs virtually from January 27-February 6.