Review by Cole Groth
Opening up with quotes from famous greek tragedies, The Daphne Project promises a film about one young woman looking to shine a new light on the traditionally white male-led plays. Co-written, directed by, and starring Zora Iman Crews and co-written and directed by Alec Tibaldi, this film does an incredible job of satirizing modern political culture. Running at an incredibly tiny budget, this film's writing takes substantial heavy lifting. Full of zany characters and some serious heart, this ultra-low indie project is an uncommonly interesting film that isn't afraid to touch on the modern state of social justice, the common criticisms — as well as its praises. Daphne Wilco is an affable leading character, and her journey to "improving" her local theatre's rendition of Euripedes's The Bacchae leads to a series of hilarious interactions worthy of a watch.
One of the things that I like most about this movie is how it's written. There's a solid mix of realistic-sounding dialogue and hilarious satire similar to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or The Office. Sure, there are some points where the extremely low-budget nature of the film leads to constraints in the delivery of the lines, but I found that the jokes landed more often than they didn't. Crews and Tibaldi's script shows the character of Daphne Wilco in many different lights. At times she's likable because of her rather ridiculous and hilarious misconceptions about how theater should work. Still, she's able to effortlessly become a genuinely lovable character because of the way that she bonds with the other ridiculous people in the theater world.
The biggest weapon of Crews and Tibaldi's script is her use of satire. Without sounding preachy, Crews and Tibaldi tiptoes the line between praise for and criticism of modern social justice. As a self-proclaimed social justice warrior, Daphne shines a light on how over-the-top allies of the social justice movement are willing to go to avoid getting canceled. At one point, one of Daphne's fellow actresses states that since Daphne doesn't have a penis, she shouldn't take on the role of a man. She is immediately rebuked by another actress who informs her that "Daphne could have a penis, who are we to tell?" to which she profusely apologizes for being transphobic. Of course, this interaction is meant to highlight some of the absurdities of getting attacked over simple statements, but Crews and Tibaldi carefully balances the criticism of social justice with a look at how it can be used for good. Daphne has a dream of performing in an important role, demonstrated through her passion for acting. Her goal of playing a traditionally masculine role seems a bit ridiculous at first, but she's eventually able to convince her peers, as well as the audience, that she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to. It's an empowering tale, and even though Daphne's deluded vision of her success is hilariously strange at times, she grew on me as a character more than most indie characters do.
From a production standpoint, it's clear the budget was limited. Crews and Tibaldi opts for a cheaper look, with weak lighting and a simple handheld style. However, these can be seen as stylistic choices meant to enhance the mockumentary style of the film. I can't help but wish that a bit more time was spent in post to highlight some of the actual play at the end. Films are rarely able to capture both the magic and realism of seeing a play put together live, and Crews and Tibaldi barely miss the mark on this element. However, as I said earlier, the writing is what's important here, and because that's pretty solid, I can excuse the low production value.
Overall, The Daphne Project is a breezy indie comedy about the magic of local theater and the common problems that up-and-coming actors face. With a heavy dose of insightful satire from a talented first-time director, Daphne's adventure for success on this off-off broadway production is worth a watch. It's much more interesting to see films like this on micro budgets than many mid-sized films today because so much heart went into making this project. I can't help but appreciate the work that Crews and Tibaldi put into their movie, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
The Daphne Project is now playing in theaters.