Directed by: Florian Zeller
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Written by Taylor Baker
Florian Zeller’s “The Son” is a hollow representation of tropes and conventions that have been around longer than the printing press. Overreliant on the incorrect assumption that the spin cycle of a washing machine will cause looming dread due to its association with a very literal Chekhov’s gun. “The Son” focuses on the relationships between divorced parents Peter (Hugh Jackman) and Kate (Laura Dern) and their troubled son Nicholas (Zen Mcgrath). Who has stopped going to school and spends his days walking around the city. Dern’s Kate is scared of him, which leads to him moving in with his father and his new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their newborn son.
Heaping most of the blame for a failed film on any single performer is always tricky. How much can they be blamed vs the casting director and director? And if the words spoken are part of the issue then one must equally point the finger at the writer. Well in this case Zeller is both the writer and director and thus he deserves the majority of the blame for the failure and obvious miscasting of Mcgrath who is out of his depth. Acting against Dern, Jackman, and Kirby while a gift could be a tall task for any performer, but doing so while trying to maintain complex interiority that the film’s own style makes impossible is insurmountable. Zeller avoids conventional filmmaking which made his debut “The Father” an enticing and rejuvenating if not original experience. But the restriction of “The Son” to keep viewers from ever following and experiencing the quiet personal moments with Mcgrath’s Nicholas consequently requires unearned empathy from the audience, or an incredible performance out of the him. “The Son” seems to be a warning to filmmakers and stage writers on the come up about falling in love with your own premises so much that you don’t see the forest for the trees or rather you forget that the number one thing about making a successful movie is it needs to work, as a movie. Nowhere else. When you stop focusing on making a movie work as a movie, you’re rarely going to succeed.
The opening third of “The Son” in particular despite its strong cast seems as if cardboard cutouts are trying to emote adult seeming things to one another. Prefacing sentences unnecessarily and talking to each other in a stilted unnatural way. I can’t help but wonder how much Zeller could learn from spending some time reading the teleplays of a writer like Stephen Glover. When attempting to conjure an emotional play the most ironclad reliable thing should be your characters, how they talk, and how they behave. But in “The Son” the only ironclad thing is exactly what the rifle behind the washing machine is going to do.
“The Son” Trailer