By the 1960s Doris Day represented everything good and wholesome about Hollywood, a concept that would soon be at odds with the nine years that would follow. As Day’s star ascended the vehicles she worked fought to match, and so you get a film like Please Don’t Eat the Daisies which was already pre-loaded with audience expectations and had the added baggage that was Day. Based on a successful play, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies has a serious issue focusing on something….anything….leading to viewing experience you’ll stop and start as much as the narrative does.
Laurence MacKay (David Niven) is a theater critic who’s just hit the big time. But his poison pen soon puts him at odds with friends he’s had for years, as well as his wife Kate (Day).
Doris Day takes a lot of flack as an actress. Her winsome smile and effortless ability to transcend all obstacles put her in a category with the likes of Donna Reed, another actress who received a post-feminist backlash that failed to look at the actual moments of honesty within her work. Doris Day’s Kate MacKay is a working mother, a character Day championed in this and The Thrill of It All (1963) despite having a somewhat hands-off relationship with her own child. Kate MacKay has dreams and aspirations, but finds them sidelined by the job of running a busy household with four little boys of all stripes; she literally has a child of every hair color, talk about biology! “I have four kids and they’re all in this room, that’s my problem,” Kate says as she tries getting ready, and much of what makes her Kate appealing is her belief she can have it all.
Kate’s kids range from the weird – a caged child who can only say “Cokey Cola” comes off like something out of a horror movie and gives us some of the better jokes – to the downright dickish. Her attempt to fit into a dress leads to the loveable comment that she should lose “ten pounds.” Kids say certainly say the darndest things! As Laurence becomes a bigger star in the theater world, Kate never loses her faith in him and their arguments are written in a way that’s honest. The couple fight, but they’re able to talk out their issues. When Laurence finds himself being hit on by star Deborah Vaughn (Janis Paige), Kate doesn’t turn into the jealous harpy, but gets her revenge by actually doing stuff she wants to do! Instead of whacking Laurence into submission with a rolling pin, Kate helps her kids by joining the local theater guild. In Day’s films, there’s no reason a wife and mother can’t be an individual.
But, with Day needing a plot, and life, of her own, the film struggles to tell two competing stories. I’m unfamiliar with the source material so maybe this is how things are pulled off, but the film is clearly divided between Laurence the theater critic, Kate the theater wife turned individual, and the family’s move from the city to the country. One minute we’re watching Laurence and Kate navigate the glittering world of Broadway glitterati and the next it becomes Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) with the MacKays finding a dilapidated fixer upper out of the Addams Family, complete with an organ-based rendition of “Be It Ever So Humble.” The house is the MacGuffin that separates Kate and Laurence for the remainder of the third act, leaning over everything like an albatross, and I have to wonder if there wasn’t an easier way of putting the two on different ends of the spectrum, considering things were leading to a solid conflict when Kate was attending parties with Laurence and being ignored.
There could have been an interesting examination of art and the role of the critic, with several gags obviously pointed at those who would be reviewing the finished product. Laurence becomes hell-bent on finding that one perfect sentence that will destroy a show purely to pad his ego and prestige. Though he proclaims to love the theater, Laurence soon becomes a slave to finding “how clever you can be trying to destroy [a show].” As a critic myself, I sympathized with Laurence in the beginning. How does one deal with being partial when people are relying on your good word to survive? Can, or better yet should, a critic call out trash for being the way it is? Unfortunately this is Day’s film, so Niven always seems to take a flustered backseat. He’s given a side plot with Paige’s star, but even a sniff of infidelity on Niven’s part – he can’t possibly cheat on a woman like Day! – neuters the character to the point that he’s ready to run away from Vaughn.
I started and stopped this film four separate times, an indication of how dull the experience is. If you enjoy Day, who gets another moment to sing “Que Sera, Sera,” then Please Don’t Eat the Daisies gives you exactly what you want.
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