Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) is a fifteen-year-old who lives on the California coast with her senile mother (Ruth Gordon), working in a stand that sells photographs of movie stars. Today is her birthday, but her mother is more interested in calling the cops to report Daisy's father missing, a man who has been gone for seven years: exasperated, the cop asks her why report it now, and she replies she didn't miss him till today. But Daisy will soon have to put her old life behind her when the recording of her singing attracts the attention of big time film producer Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer)...
Hollywood films about Hollywood usually end up being critical in some way, and Inside Daisy Clover was no different. Gavin Lambert adapted his own novel for this tale of a fictional star's meteoric rise to fame as "America's Little Valentine" of the nineteen-thirties, but while you might expect a level of disillusionment to set in for out heroine after the initial giddy feelings of success, here she seems pretty unsure that appearing top-billed in films and selling records of her trilling is all its cracked up to be from the very start of the story.
Which makes you wonder, why did she want to be in showbusiness in the first place if she didn't want all the struggle that goes with it? Daisy is a tomboy from the beginning, so already something of a rebel, but her aspirations are about to teach her that some institutions are too big to rebel against, as is the case with the Hollywood system she finds when Swan offers her a contract and sets her up as the next big thing. On the way up, she meets who she feels is a kindred spirit in trying to escape this straitjacket of fame, Wade Lewis (Robert Redford), a star already at the top, and in dubious scenes he romances the teenager.
Daisy is smitten, but heading for a fall as Wade is not running away from fame, but his public persona which Daisy is too, in her way, but not in such a damaging manner as Wade is to the other people in his life. The disparity between the private and public faces is what the film frets over, and if its portrait of thirties moviemaking is not entirely convincing - it just looks too similar to the sixties, probably more now than it did then - then the personalities involved compensate by ringing true throughout. Wood's uncertain smile tells you all you need to know about Daisy's sense of not belonging, and makes you understand why she ends up the way she does.
In fact, this is very cynical indeed, rendering Hollywood as a place that beats its players into submission instead of taking care of them so they will be operating at their very best when the cameras start rolling. Of course, plenty of actors and actresses do just fine in such careers and don't suffer the breakdowns that Daisy does here, but their stories have rarely interested the filmmakers who want to warn the audiences of the price of celebrity. Wood, having grown up in the studio system this so corrosively disparages, must have been well aware of the background here and offers one of her best performances, certainly it is one beloved of her fans, and if there's always something slightly artificial about Inside Daisy Clover, she is the one who sells it to you as more authentic than it might otherwise have been. Music by André Previn.