“Look at our kick-ass soundtrack credits! I’m so proud of that.” Katrina Holden Bronson has a reason to proud. The Daltry Calhoun soundtrack includes a wide range of artists, from Kim Wilde, Johnny Cash, and Marty Robbins, to Crystal Gayle, Frankie Valli, and the Wu-Tang Clan. On the DVD’s commentary to her directorial debut (also featuring producer Danielle Renfrew and executive producer Quentin Tarantino), Holden Bronson talks about the difficulties endured in acquiring Lee Hazelwood’s “Run Boy Run,” and how she agonized over which was the better choice for opening song — “Kids in America” or Toni Basil’s “Mickey”. She says she penned a heartfelt letter to Serge Gainsbourg’s estate to secure his and Jane Birkin’s “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus.”
What a pity she didn’t spend as much time perfecting her script as she did her soundtrack. Daltry Calhoun is a tepid, unfocused film about a reformed Southern crim (Johnny Knoxville), forced to face his paternal responsibilities 14 years after leaving his girlfriend and infant child. A grass entrepreneur whose business is about to collapse, he agrees to take in his ex, May (Elizabeth Banks), and daughter June (Sophie Traub). Once they move into his huge estate, they hang out until the plot needs them to do anything beyond taking baths and tossing balls around.
June doesn’t know Daltry is her dad or that her mom is sick. She’s also a prodigy with a Juilliard audition in her future. It’d be movie-of-the-week sap just waiting to boil over if any of the characters were in any way involving. Holden Bronson, though, can’t develop a character to save her life (or her film), thus rendering everyone here boring. Even when the predictable melodramatic turn comes — May dies so Daltry can fulfill his dad-destiny — it’s difficult to care that she’s gone.
“I really wanted to do a father-daughter relationship story,” Holden Bronson says on the DVD’s featurette, “Hollywood Comes to Tennessee: The Making of Daltry Calhoun.” Except father and daughter have their first decent conversation 35 minutes into the film. Their second comes just after the one-hour mark. What could Holden Bronson have been thinking? Tarantino asks her why she cut a scene he asked her to shoot in the slave quarters of an old Tennessee home. She (quite rightly) says, “That was for a different film.” You could say the very same thing about June’s teaching the autistic Doyle (David Koechner) to read using phonics, or about June’s obsessions with Elvis and Johnny Cash, or even her weird flirting with Frankie (Kick Gurry), the Australian grass fixer (or something) come to save Daltry’s business.
June discusses her grief over her mother’s death with Doyle, before querying Frankie about sex. “You should be talking about this stuff with a woman,” he says. Yeah. Or her dad. (Where is he when all this going on?) It’s as if Holden Bronson has grabbed every movie about girls with dead mothers and checked off requisite conversations. That June doesn’t bring up her period is a miracle. Oh wait, she does, but she hasn’t started it yet.
What we have here, basically, is a mix tape in search of a movie. If the character development is laughable, the continuity errors will make you want to scream at executive producer (and Oscar-winning screenwriter) Tarantino for ever letting this script pass without major alterations. The worst continuity offenders:
1. Daltry reveals to June that when May was 14, she could quote Shakespeare. When we se young May in flashback, she’s a roller-skating, baton-twirling ditz, and Daltry smashes her radio.
2. When May and Daltry tell June he’s her dad, the girl says she’s “not stupid” and knew the whole time. As the narrator of the film, perhaps she might’ve let us in on the fact that she knew? And if she’s “not stupid,” why does she not know her mother has a life-threatening illness until moments before she dies?
3. Daltry spies his girlfriend kissing Frankie. Cut to Daltry and Frankie playing golf. Cut to Daltry beating up Frankie without mentioning why. Cut to Frankie excited that he fixed the grass problem.
Such carelessness pervades the film. The characters remain stereotypical Southern schmoes (Frankie, too, is reduced to stereotype, using slang words no Australian has uttered since the 1950s). Amid the mess, Holden Bronson’s focus on her soundtrack during her commentary makes sense: it’s the film’s only redeeming feature, after all.