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The Son (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

THE SON (2023)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, Anthony Hopkins, George Cobell, Hugh Quarshie, William Hope, Julia Westcott-Hutton, Akie Kotabe, Kenny-Lee Mbanefo, Isaura Barbé-Brown, Reza Diako, Joakim Skarli, Rachel Handshaw, Nancy Baldwin, George Potts, Danielle Lewis, Rene Costa, Erick Hayden, Mercedes Bahleda and Shin-Fei Chen.

Screenplay by Florian Zeller & Christopher Hampton.

Directed by Florian Zeller.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13.

There is a serious, tragic story being told in The Son. The acting – particularly Laura Dern, Hugh Jackman and Anthony Hopkins – is stellar. The writer/director was Oscar-nominated for his last film, The Father.

So, why does The Son feel much lesser than The Father? In fact, it often feels melodramatic and manipulative.

It is a story which sadly many families can relate to. Hugh Jackman plays Peter Miller, a remarried father on the corporate and political fast track. His oldest son Nicholas (Zen McGrath), who is still living with his first wife Kate (Laura Dern), seems to be having a mental break. He is depressive, skipping school for weeks at a time, lying to his parents, angry, refusing to take his meds, and just possibly suicidal.

Kate feels at the end of her rope trying to care for Nicolas. Peter has been somewhat out of the picture, living his new life with his younger second wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their new baby. However, Peter always had an extremely chilly relationship with his own father (Anthony Hopkins), and he wants to be a better father for his own son. Therefore he invites Nicolas to move in with them, however the kid is sullen, angry and constantly keeping secrets.

Try as the might, they can’t seem to reach the kid. And frankly, neither Peter nor Kate is probably equipped for their son’s special needs. But the kid is unwilling to get serious treatment, and even when he says he is trying he usually isn’t.

It may seem that I am blaming Nicolas, which I am not. He is simply in a mental state where he almost can’t help harming himself and others.

The Son is based upon a play written by Zeller (called Les Fils in his native France), as was The Father (Le Père). And honestly, The Son would probably work better on the stage than it does on screen, where the seams in the story are more noticeable.

McGrath has a nearly impossible job trying to come to terms with this erratic character, who is manically depressive at one moment and upbeat the next, constantly trying to hide his reactions and negotiate the costs.

However, the son in the title is probably just as much referring to Peter as it is to Nicolas, because his own childhood with his distant father probably colors many of the mistakes he makes with his own son. And, frankly, eventually it seems like the screenplay is piling on him. Much of what happens in The Son is probably inevitable, but it doesn’t make it any easier for the audience to stomach.

It's probably not a coincidence that the film, which was originally slated for release late last year to vie for Oscar nominations, was pushed back a month. While it is very well made and stunningly acted, The Son is not quite as important and insightful as it thinks it is.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: January 20, 2023.

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