Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘The Son’ is a must see for all parents

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

Most critics are saying “The Son” is overly melodramatic, but they fail to understand this is an accurate depiction of mental illness that has swept across our youth in alarmingly increasing numbers in recent years. “The Son” isn’t a movie meant to entertain, it’s meant to educate in as powerful a way as possible. The story is riveting and emotional with another remarkable performance from Hugh Jackman.

Peter Miller (Hugh Jackman) is a highly successful lawyer living in the hustle and bustle of New York City with his wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their newborn child. With the prospect of realizing his dream of moving to DC to work in politics at his fingertips, he receives an unexpected visit from his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern), who reveals their increasingly volatile teenage son has skipped school for the past month. Eager for an opportunity to reconnect with Nicholas (Zen McGrath) and help get him back on track, Peter agrees to have him move into his home.

Not realizing or understanding the true depth of the problems affecting Nicholas, Peter incorrectly assumes he’s improving and back to earning top grades in school. Frustration and animosity build as Nicholas’ lies are unmasked, leading to heated confrontations, and growing helplessness as Nicholas spirals. Peter struggles mightily balancing crazy work hours while wrestling with his own past father-son relationship to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes his father made and lose Nicholas.

Even though it was released nationwide on 1/19/23, “The Son” is actually a 2022 movie as it was released to select cities in order to be eligible for this awards season. Unfortunately, the film has been shut out from the major awards, failing to earn a single Oscar nomination. This is only the second film from French writer/director Florian Zeller, who won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2021 on his first project, “The Father.” At first glance, it may seem that “The Son” is a sequel, especially since Anthony Hopkins is in both films, but it’s not, it is a standalone film.

Zeller has quickly demonstrated through two films that he is quite gifted at crafting a powerfully moving story. “The Son” paints a horrifyingly accurate picture of divorce, teenage depression, diminished social abilities of teens, and parents’ lack of awareness or understanding of how to effectively deal with depression that exists in so many homes today. With mental illness and suicides on the rise in teens and not enough child psychologists to help, this film is a cautionary tale that is so important. Unfortunately, mental illness is still viewed as a stigma that people want to ignore and avoid, so this heart wrenching movie has been relegated to irrelevance. It has only grossed $237,973 in the US thus far, so don’t expect it to last in the theaters very long, in fact many are pulling it out after just 1 week.

Hugh Jackman delivers an emotionally charged powerhouse of a performance as a hardworking, loving dad who simply wants the best possible life for his kids. He masterfully infuses the mentality of a typical father who didn’t have an easy childhood himself but learned how to overcome challenges on his own. This creates a character that is all too relatable as a rational thinker who doesn’t understand depression, that there isn’t always a rational explanation for the cause. Jackman perfectly exhibits that frustration and helplessness many parents feel when they don’t know how to fix the problem themselves. While he was nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance, he was snubbed for an Oscar nomination even though it was a significantly better performance than Austin Butler’s, who was nominated as “Elvis.”

The only glaring weakness of this film is the performance of Zen McGrath, who portrays the teenage son as more of a creepy sociopath rather than a depressed loner. This does detract from the story’s message as he makes the audience feel trepidation throughout the movie that he’s going to manifest his feelings in a violent outburst towards his family. With this being his first major role, his inexperience and lack of understanding of depression proves costly.

Oscar winner Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) and Oscar nominee Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) both provide professional grade performances in their supporting roles. Dern provides added depth as the ex-wife who’s stuck in the past, unable to move past the divorce, thereby adding to the strain of the family dynamic. Anthony Hopkins, who won a Best Actor Oscar in Zeller’s first film “The Father,” is only in this movie for one scene, but it’s an unexpected impactful moment that gives additional insight into Jackman’s character.

There is no doubt that “The Son” is hard to watch because of its very realistic, terrifying subject matter, but challenge yourself to give it the attention it deserves. It is a thought provoking, tearjerker of a film that will undoubtedly stay with you, especially if you are a parent.

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January 2023