In The Son, one of the reasons I was intrigued by the film is that it stars Hugh Jackman, but I was also intrigued by a family struggling with divorce and a son with depression. However, while there were aspects of the film that are thought-provoking and interesting, the focus is not on the son but rather on his father, and while the son’s depression is authentically depicted, his parents’ actions fall flat. The film has moments of great insight and emotion but is left with feeling unsatisfied.

The Son is a dramatic film directed by Florian Zeller with the screenplay written by himself and Christopher Hampton. Based on Zeller’s 2018 stage play of the same name, it focuses on Peter Miller (Hugh Jackman), who is a busy lawyer happily married to Beth (Vanessa Kirby)and has an infant son Theo. Then we learn that Peter is divorced when his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) comes to his door and tells him that their seventeen-year-old son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) is cutting school and has no friends. He is having anger issues, and she is worried about him. Peter talks to Nicholas, but Nicholas convinces him that all he needs is to live with Peter. The move is made, and both parents believe Nicholas will change and return to being happy, like when he was little. However, they soon learn differently, realizing they’ve been in denial and their son struggles with depression. How Peter deals with his son’s struggles along with the aftermath is the true heart of the film.

The story, while nominally about Nicholas and his depression, ends up being focused far more on Peter and his experience as both a son and a father. We meet his father (Anthony Hopkins) and learn that it is not a good relationship. His experiences with his father inform his relationship with his own son Nicholas. It also is demonstrated in how he focuses on trying to fix his son, rather than accepting his mental illness or helping Nicholas really deal with the problems he faces. Peter himself lacks the skills to understand his son’s problems, so instead, he lives in denial, ultimately making bad choices that impact his son. The story does illustrate Nicholas’ issues well. The depression is realistic, especially the avoidance of school, the inability to cope, and his anger. Nicholas’ behavior is realistically portrayed but neglected or denied by his parents, who just want their happy son back.

While we do get scenes with Nicholas, most of the film follows Peter as he struggles with pulling back at work to find time to address his son’s issues or check on him. We see him meeting with Kate, played by Laura Dern, as the pair try to figure out how to get their son back to normal. Meanwhile, when Peter interacts with Nicholas, he ends up denying his issues or causing a fight.

The actors deal with the material decently. Hugh Jackman gives an authentic portrayal of a man who is not in touch with his emotions. He still gives an emotional performance that resonates, especially given the challenging topic of teen depression and an ending that is tragic. The dynamic between him and Vanessa Kirby, who plays Beth, his current wife, is loving. Hugh Jackman also has good chemistry with Laura Dern as Kate. They are believable as exes who are trying to be friendly for the sake of their child. The richest relationship, though, is between Hugh Jackman and Zen McGrath. Their interactions are the most emotional, despite the issues between the characters. Zen McGrath gives a beautiful performance as Nicholas, and his portrayal is the one I find the most authentic. Anthony Hopkins is incredible, but his contribution is short. Both Vanessa Kirby and Laura Dern are beautiful, and their performances have depth.

What is challenging for me is not the performances but the story itself. While I find Nicholas authentic and his mental illness all too real, what I struggle with is that the focus ends up on Peter. While I can see how Peter’s relationship with his father informs his choices and actions with his own son, including repeating some of the same actions his father chooses, it is hard to relate to Peter. I can relate far more with Nicholas and his anxiety, his depression, and his anger. But Peter’s denial of Nicholas’ issues leaves me disconnected from the film. Instead of listening to his son, he avoids the problem until he can’t anymore. Even then, he fails to listen to experts. And that choice seems odd in today’s society. It seems far more like a choice that would have been made thirty years ago. The story itself, while emotional, is also very slow.

If you like beautiful and tragic films, you might like this, especially if you are a fan of Hugh Jackman. The performances do resonate and are emotional, which given the topic of mental illness, should be. Zen McGrath gives a powerful performance. Laura Dern is incredibly emotional, and Hugh Jackman plays the part of a distant father well. But ultimately, the feelings feel a bit forced and flat. While the mental illness is well written, the parent’s reactions to it are unrealistic. I would have preferred a bit more caring and less denial.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 offices

Official Website: The Son | Official Website | November 25 2022
Facebook: @TheSonMovieUS
Hashtag: #TheSon


The Son

Genre: Drama

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 opens exclusively in theaters nationwide on January 20, 2023.

ONE-LINER: 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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