THE SON: 2 STARS. “Jackman delivers a remarkable and authentic performance.”
“The Son,” director Florian Zeller’s follow-up to the Oscar winning “The Father,” is the story of a fractured family and a son struggling with mental illness.
The drama, adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton from Zeller’s stage play, involves Peter (Hugh Jackman), a high-flying New York City lawyer with political aspirations. He is the father of 17-year-old Nicholas (Zen McGrath) and ex-husband of Kate (Laura Dern), but has rebooted his life, marrying Beth (Vanessa Kirby), a much younger woman who is the mother to their baby, Theo. Peter has a new baby and a new life that doesn’t leave much room for his older son.
When Nicolas begins skipping school, acting out and cutting himself as a way to channel his pain, Kate asks if Peter can step up and give the boy some guidance and a place to stay. “He needs you Peter,” she says. “You can’t abandon him.”
Life is weighing Nicholas down. “I can’t deal with any of it,” he says. “I want something to change, but I don’t know what.”
With Nicolas in the spare room, Peter attempts to “fix” him, searching for an explanation for his son’s behavior, trying to be a better father to the teen than his own father, played by Anthony Hopkins, was to him. An unapologetically bad father, Hopkins snarls, “Your daddy wasn’t good to you or your mama. Who cares? Get over it.”
“The Son” is the story of intergenerational trauma, of the sins of a father (Hopkins is despicable in a fiery cameo) being visited upon his son and grandson, and a child’s cry for help.
Compassion abounds in “The Son,” and Jackman astounds wit work that is tinged with vulnerability, tragedy and guilt, but the script offers few surprises. Zeller telegraphs the film’s biggest moments, as if he doesn’t trust the audience to follow along. Those early revelations mute the story’s emotional power, despite the fine, compassionate performances.
There are compelling moments in “The Son.” A showdown between Peter and Nicholas packs emotional heft, and Jackman’s struggle to understand his son’s acute depression is tempered with equal parts empathy and frustration.
Jackman delivers a remarkable and authentic portrait of a desperate father in a well-intentioned film, that, by and large, feels manipulative by comparison.