DON’T MAKE ME GO (2022)

July 14, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes a movie synopsis just screams “Lifetime Channel”. As an example: A road trip movie with a single father and his teenage daughter would be a typical beginning. Oh, and the father has been recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. And then, let’s have them track down the mother that abandoned the girl when she was a baby. Those pieces certainly lay the groundwork for a sappy melodrama meant only to induce tears from those who enjoy a good cry after a hard week of work. Fortunately and surprisingly, crisp writing, proficient filmmaking, and a talented cast work together to make this film something entirely different – a heartfelt saga grounded in real life feelings and moments.

Hannah Marks is an actress now making her mark as an up-and-coming director, while the script was written by Vera Herbert (“This is Us”). A perfect example of their grounded approach to these storylines comes near the film’s beginning when Max Park (John Cho, Star Trek franchise as Sulu, COLUMBUS, 2017) reacts to the doctor’s diagnosis of brain tumor and prognosis of one year to live. His movements strike us as real to the moment, rather than staged for effect. Max immediately rules out an option for a highly-risky surgery, choosing instead to bribe his 15-year-old daughter Wally (newcomer Mia Isaac) to take a road trip with him under the auspices of attending his 20-year college reunion. The bribe? Driving lessons.

Wally is a ‘normal’ teen who makes both good and bad decisions, while often getting frustrated at her ‘boring’ and restrictive parent. Max chooses not to tell Wally of his condition or his ultimate goal of reuniting her with her mother, in hopes that she will have family once he’s gone. The drive takes place in Max’s old wood-paneled Jeep Wagoneer, an example of how he has sacrificed to provide for her all these years. Another deeper sacrifice is revealed on the trip, and there are moments of disagreement and aggravation, but also special moments of bonding that can only happen when a parent and teenager communicate.

Since it was filmed in New Zealand during the pandemic, the staged road trip from California through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and ultimately, Florida, does not offer the familiar landmarks along the way that we’d expect. But this story isn’t about cool pit stops or Bourbon Street (although we do get some killer shooting stars), it’s about a father understanding his daughter and that daughter understanding her father.

Excellent supporting work is provided by Kaya Scodelario (a mutual booty call buddy for Max), Josh Thomson (Max’s oldest friend), Otis Dhanji (Wally’s first crush), Stefania LaVie Owen (Wally’s friend), Jemaine Clement (as Max’s ex’s ex), and Jen Van Epps (as Wally’s mom). But make no mistake, this movie crackles thanks to the chemistry between Mr. Cho and Ms. Isaac. We believe in them, and though the ending is a bit creaky, their relationship is fully-formed in reality. When he counsels, “A good man will take you dancing”, we smile along with Wally, knowing this father wants only the best for her. The opening voiceover warns us, “You’re not going to like the way this story ends. But you’re going to like the story.” That turns out to be true, although it doesn’t stop the appreciation for all involved. This journey on the road turns into a journey in life.

Streaming on Prime Video beginning July 15, 2022

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ANESTHESIA (2016)

January 7, 2016

anesthesia Greetings again from the darkness. The comparisons to Crash, the 2006 Oscar winner for Best Picture, will be numerous and understandable. However, rather than an expose’ on racial tension, writer/director/actor Tim Blake Nelson turns his pen and lens towards the somewhat less profound, though still fruitful subject matter of suburban angst amidst the educated elite.

An opening featuring a violent mugging on the stoop of a NYC brownstone grabs our attention quickly, and rather than follow the immediate aftermath, we are instead taken back in time to study the characters and events leading to that tragic moment. The tangled web of intertwined stories is made up of no fewer than fifteen different characters, each of whom is impacted by what happens in that opening sequence.

Sam Waterston plays a beloved Columbia University Philosophy Professor who is exceedingly happily married to Glenn Close. Director Tim Blake Nelson plays their son, who is married to Jessica Hecht, and together they have a teenage son and daughter (Ben Konigsberg, Hannah Marks). Michael K Williams plays a big shot attorney who forces his best friend (K Todd Freeman) into drug rehab with a renowned doctor (Yul Vazquez), while Gretchen Mol plays the mother of two daughters and wife of Corey Stoll.

All of the above might seem simple enough, but Mr. Nelson’s script jumbles things up for each character … just like what happens in real life. Waterston discovers that his prized pupil (Kristen Stewart) has psychological issues and needs professional help – just as he decides it’s time to retire from teaching. While their kids are smoking pot and exploring sexual frontiers, Hecht and Nelson are dealing with a medical dilemma. During his rehab, Freeman is quietly confronted by a nurse while being let down by his only friend; and as Ms. Mol turns to the bottle to numb her daily pain, her hubby is making plans with someone else (Mickey Sumner) … and China may or may not play a role. Whew!!

Daily life creates many opportunities. Some of these turn out good, while others seem destined to create pain. It’s that pain … sometimes quite arbitrary … and how we deal with it, which is at the core of these characters and their stories. There is also the always-present quest for truth and search for the meaning of life. We know we are in for a ride when Waterston’s character says “I used to believe in nothing. Now I believe in everything.” Worlds colliding at every turn keep the pace of the film brisk, and the familiar cast of actors allows us to easily accept each of the characters. A bit more polish on the script could have elevated this, but even as is, the film delivers a worthy punch, and has us questioning if we should be “planting cabbages” (Montaigne).

watch the trailer: