Two middle aged men sit on opposite ends of a kitchen table with a young girl between them.

Slamdance Film Review: Daruma

Film Reviews

Slamdance Film Review: Daruma
Director: Alexander Yellen

Premiere: 01.21

Daruma shares a name with the traditional Japanese doll that symbolizes perseverance and good luck. These dolls are given as a gift of encouragement, and that is what Daruma does. Patrick (Tobias Forrest), a cynical veteran and wheelchair user who just can’t seem to get ahead of his bad luck, spends his time drinking, smoking and going to the strip club. Just as Patrick is pushed to the edge of his sanity, he discovers that he’s a father. The mother of his child recently passed away, leaving Patrick as the sole guardian. Patrick attempts to dodge responsibility until he discovers that the mother left him a hefty life insurance settlement and reluctantly accepts.

Patrick quickly realizes just how difficult it is to be a father and decides to give up custody of his daughter to her late mother’s grandparents, who accept on one condition: Patrick must bring the child across the country to Rhode Island. Planes are out of the question due to his fear of flying and the lack of wheelchair accessibility. Patrick enlists the help of his neighbor Robert (John W. Lawson), a fellow disabled veteran who despises Patrick for his alcoholism and chaotic lifestyle. Despite his contempt for Patrick, the two embark on a cross-country journey to bring his daughter to her grandparents.

Patrick’s poor outlook on life is affected by his disability, but Daruma is not trying to convince you that one needs to overcome a disability in order to be happy; rather, that happiness comes from learning how to embrace it. Daruma is breaking boundaries by casting two disabled lead actors in an industry that tends to relegate those with visible disabilities to small roles. The film gives complete freedom to their actors, which both leads take full advantage of, resulting in remarkable performances. Forrest has such precise control of his character’s emotions that it is easy for us to see his growth from hopeless to hopeful.

Daruma is a special film that deserves to be shared with everyone. There’s no word yet on distribution, but with the recent announcement of Dumb and Dumber Co-Director Peter Farelly joining the team as an executive producer, there is hope that you’ll get a chance to see it in traditional theaters. Until then you’ll have to make your way to the University of Utah’s Student Union Theater to catch the last screening on Jan. 24 at 6:45 p.m. –PJ

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.