Day of the Flowers review

If you’re thinking about going to Cuba, like any place, there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. In Day of the Flowers, a couple of headstrong Scottish sisters explore the latter as thoroughly as possible, taking us on a trip across the stunning island that might save you a trip to the travel agent.

After the passing of their father, wannabe revolutionary and protester Rosa (Birthistle) is appalled to discover her step-mother’s plans for his ashes – to turn them into a golf trophy. With the aid of her glamorous sister Ailie (Wakefield) and her designer handbag, Rosa steals the ashes so she can instead scatter them with their real mother’s in Cuba. It’s a personal mission that Ailie insists on joining, with both having very different ideas about how to complete it and having surprises along the way.

It’s not often a low-budget British film will be able to boast such a visually rich and cultured location, so director John Roberts (War of the Buttons, Paulie) naturally makes as much use of it as he can. We see everything that we expect to see – salsa clubs and dancing, charming yet rundown towns, tropical landscapes, plush hotel resorts and colourful locals – and of course a soundtrack filled with both traditional and modern Cuban music. It’s not all picturesque and rose-tinted though, as we also see some of the shadier sides of the sunny isle.

It’s a film that appears to have been given fantastic access to a complicated country, but with a script sadly lacking in the complexities that would have got more out of a promising story and unrivalled backdrop. Some of the obstacles put in the way of our protagonist are pedestrian and the way they are hurdled often convenient, which could all be forgiven with more fleshed out characters – but at times it seems Cuba is the main character.  

Despite being about two sisters, when we are following the story, Rosa is such the focus of the film that most of the supporting characters don’t have the chance to add depth, context or even comedy to her journey. She’s a quirky, Bridget Jones style character but at times she’s quite hard to like. Ailie says that her sister ‘trusts the wrong people’, something that would curry more sympathy if she wasn’t so beastly to the right ones – Ailie included. Well-meaning and earnest Tomas (Acosta) is branded arrogant and distrusted immediately for no reason at all, while at the same time she is taken in completely by clear conman Ernesto (Simpson), again for no reason at all. Both have a fascination with her but she’s so horrible to them you don’t see why.

In fact, when likeable Ailie falls foul of Rosa’s wrath late on you’re ready to pack her bags on her behalf so you can follow her journey instead. Which brings us to Rosa’s kilt-wearing friend Conway (Bryan Dick), who is so marginalized despite being at the sister’s side throughout the trip, you have to question if he needed to be included at all. We’re glad for Ailie that he is but it would have been nice to see more of him.

Working with the characters they have been given, however, the performances of all the cast make for entertaining viewing. It’s a strong turn from Birthistle particularly, with her and Wakefield playing squabbling siblings brilliantly, while Acosta and Simpson counter each other perfectly.  Day of the Flowers is certainly something different to most films in the multiplex. It’s has all the makings of a romantic-comedy without actually being one. However, it is an entertaining in-flight movie and a trip to Cuba without even getting on a plane.

Day of the Flowers at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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