All items released for entertainment purposes are designed to get its consumer base to feel something specific. There’s an art to the way a song, painting, sculpture, book, movie, play, or game manipulates its audience to get them to cry, laugh, be awed, what have you. However, when the strings being pulled to create such a reaction are so obvious and contrived that the person experiencing the media in question notices them, it is manufactured drama. Manufactured drama decimates the intricately woven idea of suspension of disbelief. The new movie A Wish For Giants, based on Aaron Dunbar’s book and subsequent screenplay, is exclusively this type of overt histrionic art.
Both the book and the movie start on the day 9-year old Roxie Madison (Alexa Mechling) abruptly falls while playing during recess. After being rushed to the emergency room, doctors find an inoperable brain tumor. They then connect her and her family to the Wish Kingdom foundation, this story’s version of Make-A-Wish. To everyone’s surprise, Roxie’s wish is to meet Bigfoot! Assigned this Herculean task is Sophie (Naysa Altmeyer), a grad student working for the foundation to get her foot in the door.
“…manufactured drama decimates the intricately woven idea of suspension of disbelief…”
So far, not too shabby. Perhaps the idea of her asking to meet Bigfoot is a bit too sweet for its own good, but not a bad idea to hang a sort of inspirational dreams are what you make of the drama. But then Derrick (Conor McClain), a classmate and co-worker of Sophie’s, enters the picture and things disintegrate quickly. For reasons that are never made clear, Derrick wants to turn Roxie’s wish into a media circus and usurp Sophie’s hard work, by hiring a Russian wrestler to don a handcrafted Bigfoot costume. Yes, there is a throwaway line about him wanting to become famous, but he is a rich, spoiled, daddy’s kid who has more money than some small countries, so this pseudo motivation is entirely baffling.
Even more baffling is that he hires a computer hacker to bug Sophie’s phone and computer in order to glean all the information she has gathered. All he does with this is drop hints in his various conversations with her that he knows these things before she tells him. And all of this, all his double-dealing and hacking and general creepiness, adds exactly zilch to anything that happens in the movie at all. Sophie never discovers his hacking ways, despite her suspecting something is odd about how Derrick knows so much. That whole diatribe about getting a great costume designer and finding someone big enough to accurately portray the sasquatch never materializes. They don’t go through with it, so it’s pointless. Derrick forces drama by creating situations that make little to no sense, or have no impact on the rest of the story. Every scene with Derrick is never paid off or has any bearing on Roxie. He is a character that only exists to be a villain of sorts, despite the plot having more than enough material for a sweet, tragic tale of a young life with big dreams taken too soon.
The worst part of the story feeling so haphazard, exclusively due to one character that seems to be well in half the movie, is that the acting is pretty decent. There are a tiny handful of scenes where dialogue is spat out at a rapid-fire pace as if the crew was running out of time that day and just needed to get through the lines to wrap up for the night. Those two or three moments aside, everyone acquitted themselves well. Despite the worthlessness of Derrick, McClain plays the character with skill. He is a great mixture of douchebaggery and false bravado stemming from his lavish upbringing.
“Derrick…is a great mixture of douchebaggery and false bravado…”
Altmeyer as the restless, hardworking Sophie is very good, creating a character with whom the audience easily relates. Her spunk and ingenuity feel authentic. Roxie’s mom Dorie is portrayed by Monica Sertik, and her reaction to the tragic situation is spot on. Of course, nothing about the movie would work if Roxie wasn’t a spitfire of determination. Alexa Mechling meets that challenge head-on, for the most part. Occasionally she does sound as if she’s reading her lines off the page, but more often than not she makes her lofty goals and zest for life seem like a natural part of herself.
A Wish For Giants is extremely low budget, but a visual palette and motif are free. Sadly, Don Swanson’s direction has all the hallmarks of a soap opera. The camera is often static, editing between characters talking as opposed to having everybody in one frame. Each scene, no matter the purpose, is flat and dull to look at. This becomes especially grievous near the end of the movie, as the main characters are camping in the woods in hopes of finding their elusive, hairy friend.
Good acting aside, A Wish For Giants does not work on any real level. The direction is bland, the dialogue perfunctory, the story is a massive mess wherein every moment is so obviously staged to pull at the audience’s heart suspension of disbelief is impossible. Throw in a totally unnecessary villain, who adds nothing to the characters or plot, and all that is left is confusion. Is a heartwarming tale still effective when you know you are being manipulated? Nope, not at all.
A Wish For Giants (2018) Directed by Don Swanson. Written by Aaron Dunbar. Starring Alexa Mechling, Naysa Altmeyer, Conor McClain, Monica Sertik.