Jake is a normal little boy, right? He’s healthy and energetic. Everyone says he has an active imagination and thinks outside the box. He acts out stories with his friends like the princess, who doesn’t know he’s a princess. He’s developed a flamboyant sense of style using bright colors and creating a makeshift skirt from rolls of toilet papers.
So, is Jake normal? The theme of identity is one explored from many angles in LGBT films. In Silas Howard’s A Kid Like Jake, the question is asked from the viewpoint of Jake’s parents.
Alex Wheeler (Claire Danes) is Jake’s mother. She loves her son, but her world starts spinning out of control getting word the school she wants Jake to attend is no longer in the district she just moved to with her husband Greg (Jim Parsons). Based on the play A Kid Like Jake, written and adapted by Daniel Pearle, we follow the couple as they come to grips with the fact their son is unique.
“… follow the couple as they come to grips with the fact their son is unique.”
The first thing you notice about A Kid Like Jake is that it’s really not about Jake. In the original off-Broadway play, Jake is never seen. In the film, you see him at the beginning and the end and with indirect glimpses throughout the film, but the focus is squarely on Alex and Greg. Pearle has created two very normal and identifiable leads in his story.
Alex is a former lawyer, who quit practicing to raise Jake as a full-time mother. While content with her decision, this doesn’t go well with her mother Catherine (Ann Dowd), who served as a constant reminder that she’s doing everything wrong. While never said, this casts doubt in Alex about her parenting skills, which is how finding a school the two can afford becomes a maddening pursuit.
Greg is a therapist, who is the pragmatist of the couple. Good or bad, he’s just a little too laid back and realistic when it comes to the effort and energy involved in getting into a prestigious Brooklyn private school. He loves Jake just as any father loves his son, but he knows his son’s proclivities to being different is not going to serve him well in the future.
The supporting cast of A Kid Like Jake is phenomenal. Octavia Spencer is Judy, Jake’s current preschool teacher. Judy becomes Alex’s admission and scholarship coach encouraging her to emphasize Jake’s personality for diversity consideration.
“…it’s really not about Jake…the focus is squarely on Alex and Greg…two very normal and identifiable leads…
Priyanka Chopra and Aasif Mandvi play friends of Alex and Greg, who has suspicions about Jake’s identity and awkwardly broaches the subject in a hilariously poignant moment at dinner in act two.
To round out the cast, Amy Landecker is Greg’s client in a role not originated in Pearle’s play. Her character is going through a separation after several failed IVF sessions. Ultimately, she becomes our window into Greg’s seemingly passive character and attitude toward his son. The moments of levity and humor from Landecker are often followed by an emotional punch to the gut.
A Kid Like Jake works because of the incredible performances of Claire Danes and Jim Parsons and the insightful writing of Daniel Pearle. It’s not a politically-charged feel-good inspirational film about gender expansiveness (a new term I learned). Instead, it’s a real look into a real couple dealing with the realization that the son they dreamed of having is different…really different.
The film leads to an explosive moment between Danes and Parson that is hurtful on both sides but equally relatable to any parent that always wanted the “perfect” child. Claire Danes prove once again she is the queen of inner turmoil. Director Silas Howard also deserves credit for making A Kid Like Jake feel like an original film and not an adaptation.
A Kid Like Jake (2018) Directed by Silas Howard. Written by Daniel Pearle. Starring Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, and Octavia Spencer. A Kid Like Jake screened as part of the opening gala at the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.
4 out of 5 stars