I came into the theater with my bar set fairly low due to reviews coming out of the Venice Film Festival. Even with my bar set at it's lowest setting I found this film never reaches its full potential. The Son could have been so great. Hugh Jackman's and Vanessa Kirby's performances were excellent. Sadly I found Zen McGrath's performance to be one note making it very hard to connect to the character. He continually had a crying face but no tears were shed. I found myself laughing in parts that were supposed to be serious and sad. Having experienced mental health issues personally and within my family over the years this film missed the mark. I left the theater feeling sad that this film could have been something great. When I should have been feeling sad for the characters.
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Peter has his busy life with new partner Beth and their baby thrown into disarray when his ex-wife Kate turns up with their teenage son, Nicholas.
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I tried so hard to like it.
one of the most discouraging movies of 2023
A cautionary tale that follows a family as it struggles to reunite after falling apart. The Son centers on Peter (Hugh Jackman),whose hectic life with his infant and new partner Beth (Vanessa Kirby) is upended when his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) appears at his door to discuss their son Nicholas (Zen McGrath),who is now a teenager. The young man has been missing school for months and is deeply troubled. Peter strives to take care of Nicholas as he would have wanted his own father (Anthony Hopkins) to have taken care of him while juggling his and Beth's new son, and at work an offer of a dream position in Washington. However, by reaching for the past to correct its mistakes, he loses sight of how to hold onto Nicholas in the present.
The Son disappoints on almost every conceivable level. What could've been an impactful examination of a generational failing of parenthood instead ends up being the most surface level look at depression and mental illness put on screen in the last decade. Florian Zeller's script reads like that of a college freshman attempting to tackle serious themes and subjects without the first bit of research or reflection of the material. Unlike his previous offering, The Father, what audiences are treated to here is nothing more than a melodramatic farce with Hallmark Channel levels of acting and plot points the most fervent fans of daytime soap operas would avoid with the repulsion of encountering a leper. Who this movie is for and why it was made remain a baffling mystery throughout its two-hour runtime, eventually leaving moviegoers with a general sense of bewilderment and poorly handled manipulation.
Starring Hugh Jackman, the Academy Award nominated actor is possibly the only good part of this travesty. As Peter Miller, a distant but concerned father, Jackman's acumen cannot be called into question. Even with a lackluster screenplay to work off, Jackman still manages to breathe life into Peter. As one of the film's titular sons, it's Jackman's scene with Anthony Hopkins, reprising his role from The Father, that the actor gets the most to work with, shedding light on his foibles as a father and revealing some of the source of his own parenting. For his part, in the one scene he's in, Hopkins is a complete 180 degree turn from his depiction in the first film as a man with his best days behind him. Here, Anthony Miller is still sharp and focused as the scene reveals the cycle of parenting that perpetuates through the Miller family tree.
Laura Dern also brings a solid game, as is standard for her, as Kate Miller, Peter's ex-wife and mother of Nicholas. Rarely has Dern turned in a weak performance, and regardless of how anemic this story may be, Dern is here to remind viewers that she's a consummate professional, able to take a page of slog and turn it into something resembling serviceable. Vanessa Kirby, while having much less to do, is good enough in her few scenes, managing to express her concern as both a wife and mother of a newborn. While almost completely disappearing in the second half of the film, Beth's reticence at accepting Nick into their family and subsequent mistrust of him plays on the harmful idea that those with mental illnesses are not to be trusted when left to their own devices.
As far as the acting is concerned, easily the weakest link of this movie is Zen McGrath as Nick Miller, one of the titular sons of the story. As a teenager, McGrath utterly fails to capture anything other than a sour sullenness, moody for mood's sake. Hampered by the weakest dialog of the screenplay, McGrath's lines are almost comically cartoonish as he spouts about his unexplained darkness. Flat monologues, combined with his swing-and-miss attempts at emoting proves that McGrath isn't ready for much else other than supporting roles and bit characters.
Floria Zeller returns to write and direct the prequel to 2020's The Father, a film that was lauded with well-deserved praise for both its performances and its look at declining mental health in ways that were both immensely creative and heart wrenching. In 2023's The Son, all the elements that made The Father as impressive as it is are largely nonexistent, replaced with the most cursory look at depression and its effects on a family. As a director, Zeller is still competent, delivering scenes that are both technically composed (thanks in large part to The Father cinematographer Ben Smithard) and smartly edited (with credit to do Yorgos Lamprinos, who also delivered on The Father). From a story building and writing standpoint, however, Zeller couldn't be worse. What the audience is given is the most rudimentary look at a young man struggling and failing with the darkness of depression. If anything else, The Son is a fascinating look into how a writer/director who got mental illness so right in one film could possibly get it so wrong in another. Not even legendary film composer Hans Zimmer and his sad, sparse score can help elevate this otherwise lifeless affair that deigns to miss every possible mark it set out to hit.
Overall, The Son sits as possibly one of Florian Zeller's worst films to date. What could've been a complex, nuanced look at mental health, its impacts on the family, and advocating proper care for those who need it instead ends up as a hackneyed, overly simplistic story with spotty acting and the reinforcement of harmful stereotypes. Hugh Jackman's performance alone isn't enough to salvage the weak screenplay or unidimensional characters. While Zeller's technical direction is fine enough, the overall disappointment of the film and its messages makes this so far one of the most discouraging movies of 2023.
Shocked by the reviews
I actually really liked this movie. I believe it tells a good story about family as their son struggles with a mental illness. The biggest problem with this movie is that some of its line deliveries come off as weird and unnatural. Also there is a scene that is mentioned but we do not actually see it. This movie is not an easy watch. The movie gets to be very heavy at certain moments. Even with all of those problems the movie is carried by a great performance by Huge Jackman and Lora Dern. This movie gives great insight into what it is like to be battle with a mental illness. Some people may not like this as much as me, but this is a really good movie.