A road trip that takes an aggregating U-turn.
“Clerks” had an original ending in which Brian O’Halloran’s Dante Hicks was shot dead in a hold up, and if Kevin Smith kept that ending, it probably would have destroyed the movie after the comedy that came before. As I was watching “Don’t Make Me Go,” I wanted to like it, but felt it was overwhelming at times, and had to end with a sad scene and a happy scene, as if were supposed to be uplifted after the tragedy that followed. I can’t spoil it, but it just seems forced.
John Cho has been transcending quite well from comedy (“Harold & Kumar,” “American Pie”) to dramas or thrillers (“Searching”), and he’s the best thing about “Don’t Make Me Go.” But he’s saddled in a tedious father-daughter story that can be funny or serious, if only they were given better material or structure.
Cho plays a single California dad named Max Park, whose teenage daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) is entering the adolescent stage when she can lie to him about sleeping over at her friend’s house, when in actuality, she’s attracted to a guy named Glenn (Otis Dhanji). He then finds out that he has a head tumor, which gives him only options.
Option #1: undergoing an operation that would give him a 20% chance of survival
Option #2: let nature take its course.
If he lets nature take its course, he could have less than a year to live, and he needs all the time he can to make things right with his daughter. So, he decides to go to a high school reunion in New Orleans, so he can find his wife Nicole (Jan Van Epps), who left him for the successful Dale Angelo (Jemaine Clement). She’s the only other family member who can take care of Wally, when he’s gone.
And now, Wally is stuck on a road trip with him, where she’s still learning to drive on the side, and sneaks off with a random motel guy at a party in Texas. But being young, she still has a lot to learn about her life, and her dad helps her through.
There are times when you feel bad for the two leads in their tragedies and times when you get aggravated by the arguments and situations. Cho and Isaac lack the kind of mismatched chemistry that Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges displayed powerfully in “Manchester by the Sea,” because when they bicker, have fun, and back around again, it’s basically the same thing happening over and over again.
Cho gives a good performance when he struggles to process his character’s emotions, regarding his illness and the decisions he needs to make for his daughter. And the supporting actress I liked is Kayla Scodelario (in a much better role than “The King’s Daughter”) as a French teacher, who transcends from his friend-with-benefits to his girlfriend. She has the kind of age and balance to make her likable as a side dish with a delicious taste. And I mean that in both ways.
I understand that teenagers have their ways of growing up and learning lessons along the way, but the movie doesn’t really dig into that, and relies on some stupidity and anger to trigger our emotions. It’s easy and hard at times, so it’s difficult for me to distinguish the overall decisions on what the movie wanted to accomplish.
“Don’t Make Me Go” is not one of Cho’s better films, and he’s been proving himself quite worthy as a serious actor.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video This Friday