A morally ambiguous but sentimental drama
Doll House has a simple premise but its execution is shaky, at best. This morally ambiguous tale takes us into the mind of a troubled and flawed father who tries to rekindle the relationship he never had with his daughter. While the idea is nice, the way Doll House presents its character and situation leaves a lot to be desired.
The story begins with a glimmer of the future, with a young woman arriving at a nursing home to find her father the worse for wear. He’s lost his memory and doesn’t remember who she is. This man is Rustin, and we dive back in time to see him at the height of his infamy.
Performing in a rock band, Rustin works hard and plays hard in equal measure, with a steady cocktail of alcohol and drugs to keep him going. When his friend Diego takes a turn for the worst, Rustin decides to make amends for the ills he’s caused, and jets off to Rotterdam to make that happen.
So what’s in Holland you ask? Well, only his estranged daughter Yumi who he decided to abandon while his wife Sheena was pregnant to pursue a life of playing rock music. Since then, no one has heard from him. Sadly, Sheena passed away, turning the care duties across to Bok and Rachelle. When Rustin shows up, he adopts a fake persona under the name of Clyde in an effort to get to know his daughter, Yumi.
From here, the story takes on a sentimental edge, with Rustin getting to know his daughter and making sure he keeps the truth from Yumi as best he can. With Rachelle off on a work trip and poor Bok duped by this man, when the truth is inevitably unveiled, chaos ensues.
I won’t spoil all the twists in this but tonally, the movie fails to really pull at the heartstrings as much as it wants you to. While there are some lovely montages where Rustin and Yumi play together, there’s a segment where Rustin takes her away from Bok so they can go and hang out and stay in a hotel together. Bok is worried sick and Rustin eventually turns his phone off. All the while, whimsical music plays?
The trouble with this angle is that Rustin isn’t exactly a warm protagonist we can root for. He’s deeply flawed, and we see him drinking and doing drugs multiple times. At one point he actually drinks so heavily he almost misses a rehearsal he promises his daughter he’d attend with her.
I can’t help but feel a better way of going with this would have been seeing Rustin get sober after the incident with Diego and then as a sobriety pledge, he sets out to right the wrongs in his life – including meeting and getting to know his daughter.
Some of the acting is a little spotty in places too, although that can be attributed somewhat to the fact English is a second language here and the drama jumps back and forth between Filipino and English on multiple occasions.
The editing and camera work fares a little better though, with a couple of neatly framed segments that stand out. However, flashbacks do have the cliched fish-eye lens attached to them though.
Doll House isn’t a bad film per-se and the star of the show is certainly little Yumi. She’s super cute and her energy helps to add some fun vibrancy to what’s otherwise a pretty average and morally ambiguous tale.