The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - THE SON | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - THE SON

New to Prime Video - THE SON
A man attempts to look after his mentally troubled teenage son.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Florian Zeller

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Anthony Hopkins, Zen McGrath, Hugh Quashie

The Son poster

Writer/director Florian Zeller recently drew much acclaim for his deft screen adaptation of his stage play The Father, which nabbed an Oscar for its titular star Anthony Hopkins and a Best Adapted Screenplay award for Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton. The Father was part of a trilogy of plays, which also included The Mother and The Son. Zeller now brings the latter to the screen, with Hopkins returning for a small role, but the results are far less successful.

The Son review

The title refers both to mentally troubled 17-year-old Nicholas (Zen McGrath) and his estranged father, New York lawyer Peter (Hugh Jackman), who has Daddy issues of his own thanks to mistreatment by his wealthy father (Hopkins). When Peter receives a visit from his distraught ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern), he agrees to take Nicholas off her hands. It seems the boy hasn't gone to school for a month, spending his days wandering around the city instead, and he confesses to Peter that he feels eternally miserable. Peter moves Nicholas into the apartment he shares with his new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their newborn son.

Possibly the worst thing for a person who feels they have nothing to live for is to spend time around someone who has everything to live for. Rich, handsome and successful, Peter just can't understand why his son might be miserable. He reassures Kate and Beth that Nicholas's issues are just "a phase," that they might even be a symptom of "girl troubles." Every time Nicholas attempts to open up his father unwittingly shuts him down. We see a mirror of this when Peter visits his own father, who advises him to simply "get over" the contempt he holds towards him for walking out on his mother while she was ill. Unlike his father, Peter isn't a monster, but he is ignorant to the troubles of others, which might make him more harmful.

The Son review

I had noticed The Son's low Rotten Tomatoes score prior to my screening, and for most of its run time I was wondering why the critics had taken against Zeller's film. Sure, there are some baffling logic gaps, like how Nicholas's schools never bother to pick up a phone to tell his parents he's gone AWOL, but it's an engaging enough family drama snapped out of the Ordinary People mould. Plus it features a remarkable performance from Jackman. There's always something affecting about song-and-dance man down on their luck (think Fred Astaire in The Bandwagon or even Gene Kelly in Xanadu), and Zeller has the good sense to exploit Jackman's dance moves in one of the film's lighter moments. A song and a dance might make you smile for its duration, but once the music stops reality returns. Peter finds, possibly for the first time in his life, that he's facing a problem he can't charm his way out of, an idea that Jackman thoroughly sells. Dern does some fine work here also. In recent years she's played a lot of tough cookies, which makes it all the harder to watch her crumble here as a mother who finds that sometimes love just isn't enough.

With The Father, Zeller used various cinematic techniques to put us in the dementia-riddled head of its title character, but there's no such inventiveness employed here. Zeller never puts us in Nicholas's head, and even if the title actually refers to Peter instead, we're left to coldly observe his actions (or inactions). Zeller's direction of The Father went a long way to engendering audience empathy for a character who may not have entirely deserved it, but the most he can muster for Nicholas is sympathy. Zeller seemed to understand dementia, but is as baffled by depression as Peter appears to be.

The Son review

It's in the movie's final act that the whole endeavour falls apart. Zeller asks us to go along with a scenario that is so contrived it's impossible to accept, and pulls off one of the cringiest firings of Chekhov's gun imaginable. There's almost something treacherous about how Zeller decides to wrap things up, treating both his characters and the audience with misanthropic contempt. Jackman and Dern's good work is ultimately undone by a writer/director who seems to understand his characters less than the actors playing them. For a less disingenuous version of this sort of thing, you can check out Xavier Dolan's Mommy or Joachim Trier's Louder Than Bombs, but Jackman and Dern do such good work here that The Son is worth a watch, even if it will leave a sour taste in your mouth.

The Son is on Prime Video UK now.

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