Directed by: Hannah Marks
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Written by Patrick Hao
Do you ever hear the critique that someone did not like a movie because it was too predictable? That complaint always intrigued me because the root of that complaint is not dissatisfaction with the predictable ending or story beats. We all know that Maverick and crew are going to complete the mission at the end of “Top Gun: Maverick.” Rather, what people seem to really complaining about to me is the bare nakedness of a film’s plot machinations that fail to become compelling enough to look past. But, the misunderstanding of not wanting to be “predictable” has put a premium on the twist ending that would pull the rug from the audience, when in reality narrative is always what matters.
It is not like Hannah Marks’ new film, “Don’t Make Me Go” doesn’t set up its twist ending with the opening lines: “You’re not going to like the way this story ends, but I think you’re going to like this story.” The film is a road drama in which an overprotective single father, Max (John Cho), learns that he has little time left to live because of a brain tumor. Rather than telling his daughter, Wally (Mia Isaac), about his ailment, he decides to take her on a road trip to expedite the imparting of his wisdom as well as taking her to see her estranged mother (Jen Van Epps).
The film neatly follows a lot of the tropes of an emotional teen drama so it’s easy to understand why “Don’t Make Me Go” decides to go with its twist ending. The film written by a former staffer on “This is Us,” was first on the Hollywood Blacklist – the list of the most liked screenplays that were unproduced – in 2012, the height of the teen emotional drama like “The Fault of Our Stars.” It’s only natural for a film of this type to want to stand amidst the clutter.
But, the ending overshadows and ruins the entire film by essentially putting too much paprika on the dish, which is disappointing because despite the roteness of the material, “Don’t Make Me Go” is elevated by Hannah Marks’ direction and the breezy chemistry between Cho and Isaac (Cho is one of our best actors interacting with children). For moments throughout the runtime, the film was approaching poignancy in detailing a father truly learning how to connect with his daughter, even if it comes in the most lukewarm of packages. That’s because the rote beats work. The classic scenarios of misunderstandings, the daughter slipping out to a teen party, and classic road trip karaoke (this time to Iggy Pop’s “Passenger”). Plus, it helps that the New Zealand landscape, mimicking Texas, gives the film extra color.
Those are examples of good audience manipulation – tried and true techniques of audience pleasure like magic’s hidden ball trick. But, when the third act twist comes, it is an utter deflation of what the film is going for. It is a marketing scheme within a movie, designed for teens to tell their friends to watch it and react, like a spicy chip challenge.
“Don’t Make Me Go” is decent enough regardless. There is no reason to not put this on and let the inherent pleasures of road trip movies wash over you. If anything, it marks the beginning of a star in Mia Isaac who is poised to be in more films coming this year. Let’s hope her career does not end like this movie.
“Don’t Make Me Go” Trailer