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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'The Son' Review: Hugh Jackman & Laura Dern Struggle As Parents In Florian Zeller's Melodrama

Zen McGrath, Laura Dern and Hugh Jackman sharing smiles at each other
SF Studios

From the father, through the son and in the holy guacamole! What happened between the first two? Let us investigate. Director Florian Zeller returns to the fold with family drama The Son, a follow-up to the heartbreaking 'The Father', once again co-written by Zeller with Christopher Hampton and adapting former's stage play called 'Le Fils'. Hugh Jackman plays Peter, a divorced father of 17-year-old Nicholas (Zen McGrath) who wishes to move in with Peter and his new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) after Nicholas' mom Kate (Laura Dern) tells Peter that their son hasn't been going to school and is having difficulties connecting with her. Nicholas later explains to Peter that this is because of his severe depression, something that has completely consumed his existence.

If you're familiar with Zeller's work, the first 30 minutes or so won't come as a surprise to you in any way as the film easily settles in to be a very dramatic effort with heavy interest in one's psyche. What it then later becomes, however, is very much a surprise, even though warning signs were already there. A big one is the overall execution which for a filmmaker's second feature is a significant downgrade, from Hans Zimmer's tedious score to Ben Smithard's dull cinematography and most of all the production design which isn't doing much for the story.

Kirby and Jackman sometimes manage to deliver some sincere emotion but ultimately can't get out of the dark that is the screenplay and uninspired direction of it, both which get worse and worse as the movie goes on. Zeller and Hampton's writing is somehow both trying too hard and being quite manipulative in terms of how it moves its chess pieces, offering a resonance that McGrath isn't able to match as an actor and giving truly nothing for Beth or Kate as characters—both are women, by the way—which leads to Dern turning in a performance that doesn't leave any kind of mark afterwards.

You end up thinking that the beginning, which was at best passable in its quality, was better than that simply because the final 30 minutes are, again at their best, excruciatingly awful. The ending with its dream sequences and incredibly dumb use of Chekhov's gun is filled with some of the most tone-deaf filmmaking choices of recent years, even if it all comes from a well-meaning place. Sure, you may have wanted to talk about something important but to use very specific narrative devices just to earn a tear or viewer's attention misses the point altogether. How do you expect any of us to invest in your characters' intelligence and minds when you present them as dummies with a playwright's pen in place of where their brain used to be?

Smileys: Vanessa Kirby and Hugh Jackman occasionally

Frowneys: Ending, screenplay, directing, Laura Dern

Replace director jails with prisons that forbid you from using dancing scenes when you have a really atrocious one in your movie.


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