Basically: A father-daughter road trip doubles as the moment when life flashes before our eyes.
Relatable moments. Sometimes a film finds you in your feelings because it understands who you are. When I was young and my father still took me on daddy x daughter dates, he once accidentally chose a movie that prominently featured tiddies AKA breasts. They were everywhere. I was agog but my father was undone. That memory and the opening of Don’t Make Me Go parallel each other quite nicely. John Cho’s Max Park freaks out when he accidentally takes his daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) to a nude beach. Unlike me, Wally also loses it when she sees all the dangly bits flopping around on the human body.
It’s funny but it is also tangible. Fathers and daughters tend to freak each other out when girls turn into teens. It’s part of that particular journey. So, it’s fitting that Don’t Make Me Go is a road trip packed with coming-of-age, coming undone, and facing the end of life with eyes wide open.
The screenplay by Vera Herbert reminds me so much of a Young Adult novel that I researched to see if it is. It isn’t—but the beats are there. Wally is a girl on the fringes of high school, she isn’t popular but she isn’t bullied either, she’s just crushing hard on a boy who might be or probably isn’t her boyfriend. Max is the same, sneaking out for late night hookups with a woman you could call his lover but probably isn’t. Max and Wally live day-to-day keeping secrets while keeping each other in line, but then Max is diagnosed with a life threatening growth in his brain. And since he and his daughter are alone, it might be nice to go on a road trip to introduce Wally to her mother.
It’s good to see this John Cho again. He didn’t seem invested in what he was given in Cowboy Bebop, but in Don’t Make Me Go he turns the lights on. There’s something soft and endearing about the way Max loves Wally, and his willingness to work through his pain to secure her future. Likewise, Mia Isaac is a stunner. Every insecurity, each moment of blinking back hurt, every giggle and look of longing, each inexplicable decision connects you to her character. This role should be the launching pad for a starlit career.
Don’t Make Me Go is also tenderly made, even in moments of laughter, by director Hannah Marks. The scenes are overlaid on places most of us have been and there are moments when the landscapes seem to synchronize and breathe with the characters.
You might hear a lot of dismay about the twist in the ending, but for me it was a way of encouraging us to see past whatever is bothering us and to recognize the frailties of one another.
In the End: Stream this one on a Saturday afternoon when you want to vicariously experience healing emotion.