Focus Features 1 hour 45 minutes PG-13
This is a tear jerker film with good intentions, but there’s an awful lot going on, including several messages. That’s the problem. There are too many. Novelist and Comic Book Writer, Gregg Hurwitz, says he wrote the script 18 years ago before he had kids, and then revisited and rewrote adding what he learned being a parent.
Director Colin Trevorrow says he read the script knowing it had been around for awhile and couldn’t let go of it. He told the producers to just wait till he finished directing Jurassic World and then he’d tackle it. Trevorrow called it a high risk script and we know why. It’s got plot overload and there’s a jarring turn about half way through that’s completely implausible. It’s got purpose, but is not realistic.
Trevorrow has cast top actors. Naomi Watts is the immature Mom, Susan, who depends on her genius son to run the household. She is heavy into video games which is amusing to watch. She’s a really good Mom in other ways. She’s affectionate, loving and attentive, even though permissive and usually late picking her kids up from school.
Jaeden Lieberer (amazing in Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special,) plays her incredibly mature genius of a son, Henry. He takes care of the finances, looks after his adorable little brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay, magnificent in Room) and is trying to manage his Mom. (Watts has acted with both boys in different films.) There is a lot of love in their little family. Susan works at a diner with kooky friend, Sheila, (Sarah Silverman). The boys describe her taste in clothes as "fashion roadkill." Her boss, John, (SNL’s Bobby Moynihan) is not as patient with either one of them. Silverman is a wise acre and there is wry humor in her close relationship with Susan and the boys.
Henry is keeping a book with incredibly sophisticated drawings including plans for projects, and thoughts about the world around him. He’s concerned about Christina (Maddie Ziegler, Dance Moms) who lives next door with her step Dad, Glen (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad) who is the Police Chief. Henry just knows there’s something wrong there.
Henry puts a lot of pressure on himself and Lieberer could have played being a genius over the top, but is very believable. He’s not all work and no play, as we see in the playhouse he has with his brother in the woods near their home. It’s amazing! The scene where the family is shopping in the supermarket is cute and shows their family dynamic. Peter is putting all the bad foods in the cart and Henry is taking them out and replacing them with healthy choices as they walk and talk with their Mom who is just letting them do their thing.
Director Trevorrow keeps them all very human when Henry gets very sick with cancer. The love between members of the family rings true. The compassion of the surgeon is a little more intense than you’d expect. He obviously takes a special interest in the family, especially Henry’s Mom, Susan. Henry, still concerned about Christina, leaves unusual instructions in his book for his Mom to intervene. This is where the plot goes off on an unrealistic tangent. It turns very dark and scary. In the middle of that, Christina does an emotional dance in the school talent show which is a clue to her unhealthy situation. Enough said. It gets even more intense and threatening.
All of the actors in this film do a remarkable job. Watts has an impeccable American accent and gives just the right amount of affection and worry as a parent. All of the kids in the movie loved working with her, describing her as being very sweet on the set. Director Trevorrow gets into a lot of detail and closeups of the actors’ faces to portray the gamut of emotions from joy to terror. There are a few surprises along the way. Kids do raise their parents in many ways, but this is to the extreme. Not sure we would follow the book our children would write to raise us the way Henry did. But his message here is to help others who need it, no matter what, and that’s not a bad one these days. There are good performances, but with cancer and child abuse in the mix, you may not want to book this one for the family.