To me, Uma Thurman will always be Kill Bill‘s Beatrix Kiddo and, for that reason, she will always be one of my favorite actresses. Though we take that film and her performance in it for granted now, the fact of the matter is that Kill Bill, Volume 1 was one of the most important milestones in my evolution towards becoming a film fanatic. I was a senior in high school when I first saw that movie and I had the same insecurities that every 17 year-old girl has. However, when I watched the Kill Bill films, I felt like I could survive anything. If Beatrix Kiddo (in the form of Uma Thurman) could survive being shot in the head and come out of her coma kicking ass, then I knew that I could certainly survive breaking up with my boyfriend or getting my period in gym class or waking up with a big zit in the middle of my forehead.
However, even Uma Thurman had to start somewhere and that somewhere, in her case, was with an obscure, low-budget film called Kiss Daddy Goodnight. Kiss Daddy Goodnight, which also features Steve Buscemi in a small role, is one of those moody, atmosphere-drenched films that always seems to show up in cheap, 10-movie box sets. I recently watched it as a part of the Night Chills box set and I discovered that it’s not really as terrible as many reviewers claim.
First released in 1987 and looking as if it was produced with a budget of about a $1,000, Kiss Daddy Goodnight is another one of those oddly fascinating and pretentious grindhouse films that tries to mix art and exploitation. Shot on location at some of the sleaziest locations in New York City, Kiss Daddy Goodnight is the ennui-drenched story of Laura (17 year-old Uma Thurman). Laura is an actress who supplements her income by going out at night with a Louise Brooks wig on, picking up rich men, drugging them, and robbing them. Laura steals an ornate dagger from one of her victims and makes plans to give it to her mom as a birthday present.
Kiss Daddy Goodnight is also the story of Sid (Paul Dillon), a friend of Laura’s who, having previously left for reasons unknown, returns to New York and announces that he’s looking for Laura’s ex-boyfriend, Johnny. Sid wants to start a band. Laura tells him that she doesn’t know where Johnny is but she allows Sid to crash at her apartment. Sid spends most of the movie walking up to random people and asking if they’ve seen Johnny. He also finds the time to go through Laura’s closet whenever Laura’s not at the apartment. “Fucking bitch,” Sid randomly exclaims while looking at Laura’s dresses.
Kiss Daddy Goodnight also tells the story of William (Paul Richards), a courtly older man who lives in an apartment with a rabbit and who spends most of his time missing his daughter Lara, who wants nothing to do with him. William becomes obsessed with Laura, who looks almost exactly like Lara. We’re never quite sure what William does for a living but he’s rich enough to have a henchman who follows Laura whenever she leaves her apartment.
Finally, Kiss Daddy Goodnight is the story of Johnny who, once Sid does find him, turns out to be played by a very young Steve Buscemi. Johnny is only on-screen for about 5 minutes but, since he’s played by Buscemi (who, as opposed to Dillon and Richards, can actually act), he becomes a major character by default. Johnny is the only character in the film who seems to have a life outside of what we’re seeing on-screen. When Sid says he wants to get the band together again, Johnny says he no longer plays. When Sid says, “Laura says hello,” Johnny simply gives him a contemptuous stare and turns on the TV. The camera zooms in on the TV and we spend a few minutes watching football players tackling each other in slow motion.
Yes, Kiss Daddy Goodnight is an odd little film. While the film’s nominal plot is basically William pursuing Laura while Sid attempts to protect her, the film itself has a random, almost improvised feel to it. The film is more interested in documenting the weird people around Laura and Sid than in Laura and Sid themselves. When Sid applies for a job in a seafood place, the camera pans over to the two men in sitting in the booth behind him and we spend a minute listening to them talk about a friend who has been kicked out of a private school in Europe. When Laura takes a taxi to her apartment, the driver discusses philosophy with her. The phone number 559-8317 appears throughout the movie, cryptically scrawled on apparently every wall in New York. No one calls the number or even seems to notice it but it’s there as evidence that Kiss Daddy Goodnight is far more concerned with preserving a specific time and place than with telling a traditional story. When viewed as a historic document, Kiss Daddy Goodnight is a success d’estime.
Kiss Daddy Goodnight has a pretty bad reputation. One need only visit its page on the IMDb to see how little most people seem to think of Uma Thurman’s debut film. I, however, found it to be a bit more interesting than its reputation would lead one to suspect. Along with serving as a time capsule of New York City, the film proves that, even early in their respective careers, both Thurman and Buscemi had the talent and charisma necessary to become stars. If nothing else, just the fact that Uma Turman could go from Kiss Daddy Goodnight to Kill Bill, should give us all hope for the future.
It’s just more evidence that anything is possible.