The Son

By Joanna Langfield

How did this happen?

Florian Zeller’s purported follow up to his far superior The Father is a shockingly melodramatic slog. I understand and appreciate the intention buried beneath the surface here, but, let’s be honest. You’ve got to engage your audience if you want them to learn your lesson. And this one only kept me watching because I couldn’t believe what a mess it was.

The always dependable Laura Dern kicks things off, showing up at her fancy ex’s apartment, demanding he get more involved in their teenage son’s life. Dutifully, Peter (Hugh Jackman) pays a visit. We can see the kid is depressed, but the privileged adults around him don’t. This includes the pricey school that turns the other cheek until a student doesn’t show up for a month. Oh, and this happens twice. At two different schools. Anyway, now the parents are all involved, hoping love (and some visits to a therapist) will solve the problem. Ah, but what is the problem? We get hints along the way, extrapolating a bit when Anthony Hopkins shows up for a scene. Seems everybody’s got some work to do.

What could have been a powerful cry of warning feels glib and as overplayed as it is underwritten. Young Zen McGrath has been handed the difficult role of a cagy, self-destructive teen. Although he occasionally hits the complex marks his role demands, it feels as if he hasn’t been encouraged to dig deeper into the intricate charm that would have kept us all more involved. Hopkins does his thing in a quick moment that, I guess, is supposed to tie this to the far more effective The Father. And Jackman’s performance, at least as edited here, feels over modulated and leaves us cold. There is one scene where he gets to dance. So at least there’s that.