[Screen It]


(2022) (Hugh Jackman, Zen McGrath) (PG-13)

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Drama: A Manhattan attorney and his ex must contend with their teenage son's increasingly disturbing, anti-social behavior.

Peter Miller (HUGH JACKMAN) is a successful Manhattan attorney who's been earmarked to join a politician's campaign. Despite his second wife, Beth (FELIX GODDARD), occasionally complaining that he's always working while she's caring for their young son, he's thinking about taking the position.

That is, until his ex, Kate (LAURA DERN), shows up and informs him that their 17-year-old son, Nicholas (ZEN McGRATH), who lives with her, hasn't been to school in over a month. She also adds that he now scares her, which results in her feeling like a failure at being a mom.

Peter confronts Nicholas about that, and it's not long before the teen moves in with his dad and stepmom, although the latter feels uneasy about the teen. Still, she tries her best to be accommodating. But despite the fresh start, his anti-social ways quickly return, all of which puts a strain on the family and makes Peter and Kate unsure of what to do about that.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

In the Spider-Man universe, there's the well-known saying "With great power comes great responsibility." That obviously relates to the amazing web-slinger's, well, amazing physical abilities, but it can also be applied to human beings in general outside of that Marvel universe.

And that's how humans, with those advanced CPUs up top, should recognize and honor the responsibility that comes with such cranial abilities, particularly concerning dealings with others. While some animal species can manipulate similar critters and even us, as Carly Simon once sang, nobody does it better than people.

Using our big brains, we can affect the psychological state of family, friends, and strangers (or let anyone in those groups purposefully or unintentionally do that to us), and even manipulate our own mental state for any variety of reasons.

All of that comes into play in the family drama "The Son," director Florian Zeller's prequel follow-up to his well-received, aging-based drama, "The Father" (for which Anthony Hopkins earned a well-deserved Oscar). Like that earlier work, the filmmaker has adapted -- with the assistance of co-scribe Christopher Hampton -- his stage play of the same name, and likewise has attracted an impressive cast to portray the characters within.

This time, rather than focusing on dementia, the story revolves around severe teenage depression and how it affects those in the troubled person's circle and -- in this case -- is the result of prior family events, both relatively recent and decades ago.

17-year-old Nicholas (Zen McGrath) has been skipping school and behaving so erratically that he's scaring his mom, Kate (Laura Dern), who visits the boy's father and her ex, Peter (Hugh Jackman), to voice her concerns. He's a successful attorney who's remarried to Beth (Vanessa Kirby) with whom he has a very young son.

Peter, who apparently inherited the career over family drive and adulterous ways from his father, Anthony (Hopkins, who appears in just one signature scene), feels guilty about what's become of Nicholas and thus has the boy move in with him and an understandably uneasy Beth.

Despite his all-too-obvious mental anguish and uncertainty related to what's happening inside his head, Nicholas is smart enough to manipulate those around him that he's supposedly better now, with his parents somehow oblivious to this or simply not wanting to fully address it and thus ignoring the signs and common sense.

And with that we wait for the inevitable trainwreck that's almost certainly around the corner, or at least some sort of washing machine debacle, what with repeated views of such an appliance spinning and tumbling its content (and occasionally just sitting still, soaking, and apparently ready to start agitating again).

I don't mean to be flippant about such serious subject matter, but the film is as manipulative as the characters at times (including Dern's character more than once reminding Jackson's of what they once had together). And the melodrama often rises to such levels that overflow the Maytag and threaten to drown everything and everyone within sight. It doesn't help that things often feel a tad too much like watching a stage play. That's somewhat understandable considering the source material, but Zeller didn't have the same issue with "The Father."

I didn't hate the film as some other critics have, but while well-intentioned and featuring some good performances, the manipulation is a bit too overt (especially the concluding scene), meaning "The Son" isn't as good as its cinematic parent. Although it does prove that when it comes to parenting, the old Spider-Man saying is definitely apropos. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Posted January 20, 2023

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