#TIFF22: “THE SON”
By David Baldwin
Peter (Hugh Jackman) has it all. He is a big shot attorney being courted by D.C. for a Senator’s election bid and his new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) has just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Peter’s older son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) is not doing great though – he is not getting along with his Mom, Peter’s ex Kate (Laura Dern), is not going to school and is suffering from severe depression and anxiety. Hearing this, Peter agrees to let Nicholas live with him and his new family in the hopes that his mental health will improve. Except it does not, it just gets worse.
THE SON is easily the most divisive movie I have seen at TIFF ’22. The discourse, anger and debate this Movie has already sparked is not quite at the level of The Whale, but it is going to get so much more heated after its theatrical release this Fall. Your “enjoyment” (I used the term loosely because THE SON is not very fun to watch) will entirely hinge on your feelings around Mental Health, specifically when it involves a child. I do not want to spoil where the Film goes – the foreshadowing motifs sprinkled throughout are about as subtle as a fire alarm – rather, I want to note that it careens into bleak and unsettling territory.
What also works against the Film is the inevitable comparisons to The Father. That film, like THE SON, was adapted by Zeller and Christopher Hampton from Zeller’s play and both feature tremendously intricate Production Design and a tortured character at its centre. Whereas that film focused on Anthony Hopkins’ towering, extraordinary performance, this Film spends more time with Jackman than it does McGrath’s titular character. And when McGrath does show up, he is whiny, annoying, cold, distant, melodramatic and unrefined. Some have punched down and have suggested it as being laughably bad. While I myself did not think it is a great performance, I would caution before saying it was bad. McGrath plays Nicholas as a scared, anxious and confused teenager who does not understand the feelings he is experiencing nor the ability to process them, so it makes perfect sense why he is so melodramatic and all over the place.
Elsewhere, both Dern and Kirby are sidelined through far too much of the Film (though the latter still slays every time she appears) and an explosive two-scene cameo from Hopkins is so incendiary that the Film is never able to match its energy afterwards. Which is all to say, Jackman has a lot of heavy lifting to do. He is up to the task and delivers a very good, albeit aggravating performance. You will just want to reach out and shake him violently for his character’s arrogance and callousness towards his son’s precarious situation. Worse, his spectacular “Oscar” scene comes in the form of a 10-minute epilogue that does not really need to be there. Which is a hell of a shame.
THE SON screens as follows at TIFF ’22:
Mon, Sep 12 IN-PERSON Roy Thomson Hall 9:00pm
Tue, Sep 13 IN-PERSON TIFF Bell Lightbox 12:00pm