Thursday, January 19, 2023

A frustrated father and a troubled son

 In adapting his stage play, The Son, for the screen, director Florian Zeller finds emotional moments that ring true amid many that miss badly. Zeller, the French playwright who directed The Father (2020), explores what happens when a father (Hugh Jackman) -- divorced and remarried -- tries to keep his mentally troubled son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) from ruining his life. Jackman's convincingly exasperated performance reflects the difficulty of communicating with a kid who dissembles and has little insight into his self-destructive behavior. The New York-based story kicks off when Nicholas's former wife (Laura Dern) asks Jackman's Peter for help dealing with Nicholas, who has been skipping school. Peter and his wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) take in the seventeen-year-old, a decision that's complicated by Peter and Beth's situation; they've recently become parents to a new infant son. Nicholas's increasing inability to cope diverts Peter's attention from work and the important Washington job he's about to land. During a trip D.C., he's lectured by his high-achieving, bullying dad, played by a briefly seen Anthony Hopkins in a powerful scene. Among the movie's problems: We don't really get to know Nicholas, partly because he keeps himself hidden and partly because he's reduced to a single dimension: The problem kid who resents his father for leaving his mother. The movie contrives to reach its expected conclusion with Zeller adding a misguided scene that just doesn't play. Too bad. The Son misses an opportunity to deal convincingly with a difficult but important subject.

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