Florian Zeller’s follow-up is too cynical and negative to handle its problems.
Mental illness is no laughing matter. People stricken with it can either destroy themselves or clean themselves. And I’m not one to say. I’m just an autistic film critic who hates being told certain things he doesn’t like to told directly to.
But anyway, “The Son” is about a boy who begins to develop mental problems ever since his father left his mother for another woman. And for years, he feels like he doesn’t belong in this world, which is why he distances himself from school and injures himself as a way to coping with his condition.
I’m told this is the second part of a trilogy that writer/director Florian Zeller has based off one of his plays. The first was “The Father,” which was about Anthony Hopkins as an old man developing dementia. Although in actuality, the plays began with “The Mother (La Mere),” “The Father (Le Pere),” and ends with “The Son (Le Fils).” Both these film versions have sincere performances, but “The Father” is the better film to see, because “The Son” seems too sad and too difficult for our minds to process. I sympathize that this illness is problematic, but the movie doesn’t handle it the way it should.
Hugh Jackman stars as the father Peter, who is poised to earn his dream job in Washington, but feels obligated to help his son Nicholas (a stressful Zen McGrath) get through with his pain. The boy feels that staying with him and his new wife (Vanessa Kirby) and baby would be better than with his mother (Laura Dern) for the time being.
He seems to be doing better in his father’s eyes, but he’s still skipping school and cutting himself, up to the point of him being institutionalized. He blames his father for how he ruined his family’s lives. Jackman gives a good performance, but both he and McGrath struggle to overcome the story’s cynicism. There are tears and anger, which we can easily acknowledge, and I felt some of that during my viewing of the film. When I went with my mother and some of our friends, we all felt that “The Father” would be the better movie to see, even if they haven’t seen it yet, because of the sadness the film engages us in.
Don’t judge me. I’ve praised sad movies a number of times, but as long as they’re not too cynical or unhappy to take us in their turmoil. We don’t want anyone to be sad, and we can either support them or tell them to get some professional help. Some can and others can’t. I’m not here to say.
Zeller reunites with Hopkins, who plays Peter’s father. He, too, blames his old man for ruining his life, but he’s told to “F***king move on.” This small subplot has no payoff and feels like a giant middle finger to the audience, as if it thinks we’re weak and immature to move on from our issues. The middle finger goes to that old fart (I’m talking about the character, not the actor, obviously).
“The Son” has a kind heart in its subject matter, but a cold heart as it fails to overcome whatever obstacles the director writes. There’s no easy way out of this. And it ending is too predictable for us to comprehend.
In Select Theaters This Friday