NOW IN THEATERS! Florian Zeller’s The Father, from 2020, addresses the toll Alzheimer’s and dementia can have on a family. His follow-up, The Son, shines a spotlight on mental health issues in our children, particularly teens. The film is about Peter (Hugh Jackman), a political power broker by trade and the father of a newborn son with his wife, Beth (Vanessa Kirby).
Peter’s life is soon complicated when he and his ex-wife, Kate (Laura Dern), learn that their oldest son, Nicholas (Zen McGrath), has been skipping school for over a month. The frustrated Nick says that he’s having trouble with life in general and can’t live with his mother anymore. He begs to live with Peter and Beth. Of course, Peter says yes, which ticks off Beth, convincing her that it will be only temporary.
The change of scenery seems to have done the trick. Nick is at a new school, making friends and going out. However, tension arises when Nick questions Beth about the affair that broke up his family. The teen soon returns to his old patterns, and Peter finds that he’s not able to tackle Nick’s deep-seated problems.
The Son is a simple film to crack, almost too simple. Based on Zeller’s play, the film tackles the subject of mental health and teen suicide from the perspective of parents. As someone, who has had to deal with loved ones and suicide, it was easy to relate to the story. Great care was taken to turn this into an invaluable resource for parents on depression and suicide. As parents, it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is something wrong with our children and then wonder what role we played in the situation.
“The frustrated Nick says that he’s having trouble with life in general and can’t live with his mother anymore.”
The Son is an important film for any parent of teens that cannot be understated. Yes, we’re dealing with life and death here, but the cast and crew bring awareness and empathy to the issue. The intention is to give parents the tools necessary to approach the subject with their children and themselves.
That said, as a drama and considering the cast and production team, the film feels so heavy-handed. I’d describe the tone as similar to a Hallmark or Lifetime Channel-quality movie, just starring A-List actors and with the backing of a major studio. The acting is top-notch, but the story and dialogue are problematic.
Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the story is not as groundbreaking as one would expect. If you’ve watched the lite Lifetime fare, suicide is a common topic in these films. I found myself narratively way ahead of the character, which is not good for one that’s over two hours long. Let’s just say the two twists, in the end, were highly predictable, and when the first one happened, I just sat there repeating to myself, “waiting… waiting…” and boom.
Regarding the dialogue, it’s so basic. I don’t know if The Son is a direct translation of Zeller’s French play, but the words on the page are incredibly mediocre. As the troubled Nick, Zen McGrath gives a very scripted performance, like reading lines from a script and simply ratcheting the emotions up and down based on the circumstance of the scene. Again, this feels like a high-budget television drama. Let’s face it, Jackman, Dern, and Kirby can elevate pedestrian dialogue, but they deserve higher quality work for their talent.
If you’re looking for a resource on teen suicide, The Son will work just fine. But if you want an award-caliber drama, keep searching.
The Son screened at the 2022 AFI Fest.
"…tackles the subject of mental health and teen suicide from the perspective of parents."