Basically: A divorced father struggles to help his clinically depressed son.
Peter (Hugh Jackman) is a divorced father who has recreated his life with a new wife and baby. The problem is that Nicholas (Zen McGrath), Peter’s son from his first marriage, is struggling—he hasn’t been to school in nearly a month. Peter’s hectic life is put in further disarray when Nicholas moves in. Things get better briefly but eventually Nicholas ends up trying to kill himself. Peter and his ex-wife Kate try to figure out how best to help Nicholas, with disastrous results.
The Son is a tough movie to watch. It is so clear that Nicholas is screaming for help as best as he can and no one is listening. It is frustrating to see the half-measures everyone in the film takes to actually help this boy, but this is likely very true-to-life for people dealing with depression as profound as Nicholas’ is.
The acting is sublime. Hugh Jackman carries this film, as is expected, but he is matched scene by scene by his new wife (Vanessa Kirby) and his ex-wife (Laura Dern). Both women play off Jackman so powerfully, and avoid one another so awkwardly it feels real—divorce is messy and they play it that way. It makes the whirlwind of emotions hit home and hurt.
The filming, well, the filming is delightfully normal and surreal by turns. The Son takes place in New York and it is totally New York. Tiny apartments, lots of people, small shops, cool exteriors, you name it. Even the color tone feels like New York. Then there are times when a simple camera choice could have been made but it wasn’t. It is in those moments that you feel as out of control as Peter does—struggling to hang onto something normal while the world goes slightly off pitch. There is one great scene where the camera pans down a street at an angle, which made me uncomfortable to the point I had to look away. It is perfect!
But not everything is perfect. My main issue with The Son is how male-focused it is. Watching the women flutter around Jackman, while they are themselves struggling, is tough. Just as I was ready to watch either Kirby or Dern really have a breakthrough scene, the camera would swing back to Jackman. Having these women rely on him so much, having him make decisions they are only nominally involved in, is infuriating. Yes, it is a story about a father and son but we see so little connection between the two—and much more between the father and the women in his life—that I wanted a little more.
Also, some of the scene choices are strange. There is a big fight between Peter and Kate but it takes place off-screen. It should be a pivotal point that really shows us just how much Nicholas is impacting their relationship…but we never see it.
In the End: If you want to give your family a big hug and mean it this holiday season, The Son is the movie for you!