'Sugar Daddy' Reshapes Conversations About Sex Work

Directed by Wendy Morgan

Starring Kelly McCormack, Colm Feore, Amanda Brugel, Ishan Davé, Kaniehtiio Horn, Nicholas Campbell, Aaron Ashmore, Hilary McCormack

BY Jordan CurriePublished Mar 30, 2021

On a black screen in pristine cursive lettering, there are three title cards that appear at random throughout Sugar Daddy: "Timid," "Joyous" and "Atrocious." Each card represents a benchmark in the evolution of lead character Darren. Beginning as a stumbling, passive woman whose conflict morphs into something bigger than she can wield, Sugar Daddy is a mysterious, musical and stylish film about a woman seeking to connect to her creative self while also attempting to balance how she is perceived by others and herself.

Darren (played by scriptwriter/producer Kelly McCormack) is a talented but struggling singer-songwriter in her mid 20s who works multiple part-time jobs to keep herself afloat in her shared apartment in Toronto. When she signs up for an online service that sets her up on paid dates with sugar daddies in order to make extra cash, she embarks on a spiralling journey that warps her perception of herself and the world around her.

McCormack's performance is one that audiences will feel compelled to observe through a magnifying glass, as Darren keeps a stoic exterior while an ever-growing pile of turmoil builds inside her. Audiences may not always agree with or even like Darren, and it's true that at times her motivations and actions can be difficult to read, but it's difficult to pry your eyes away from her. Cinematography by Kristin Fieldhouse and editing by Christine Armstrong work in tandem seamlessly to create an explosive visual feast, illustrated through the music video-like segments in Darren's mind to express her rage, sadness and isolation. The jarring and encompassing sound editing of the film switches between experimental instrumentals and classical/opera scores that cut through scenes like a knife, often contrasted with McCormack's soft, siren-like singing voice. Darren's dreamy, trance-like original music was written and produced by the Montreal-based artist FOXTROTT and gives the film the DIY flare that a small singer-songwriter would create.

The men in Darren's life are presented under the guise of being "nice": her roommate Peter (Ishan Davé), who feels entitled to romantic attention from her; the music producer Angus (Aaron Ashmore), who cares less about helping Darren's career and more about what she can provide for him; and Gordon (Colm Feore), one of Darren's clients who serves an an almost father-like figure to her. As their intentions begin to unravel in front of her, Darren questions her state of mind and her role in other people's lives, especially through the lens of her new job.

At one point, during an impromptu date, as Darren and Gordon discuss whether they'd be comfortable letting their daughters pursue a career in sex work, she asks him, "Why do you pay to go on a date with a girl 40 years younger than you?" It's a question that is rarely posed in such a conversation, which typically scrutinizes the sugar baby and not the men seeking the service. Through every nook and cranny of Sugar Daddy, it's clear that this film was made by women and about women — about their perspectives, their art and creativity, their values, and their navigation of the world. Morgan and McCormack worked together to bring to life an experimental yet widely recognizable story, one that many women have likely seen themselves in before.

Sugar Daddy will premiere at the Canadian Film Fest on April 1. It comes out on VOD on April 6.

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