Friday, June 14, 2024

Review: What Can We Do About Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern in “The Son”? They’re Just “Ordinary People”


Florian Zeller’s The Father with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman was so clever and well constructed, full of surprises, you had to admire it. Sir Anthony won the Oscar, which was exactly right. The whole movie was a gem.

So what does Zeller follow it up with but “The Son.” All the originality is gone. It’s “Ordinary People” without a purpose or hope. The acting is professional tidy, with Laura Dern stealing whatever there is to be taken. Hugh Jackman is somber (although he shines during an inspired dance moment). But yikes, want to feel bad? “The Son” is for you.

So Hugh is a high powered Manhattan lawyer who left his wife (Dern) and their teen son for a younger woman. The new couple has a new a baby. But back in Brooklyn, Dern is dealing with the morose, severely depressed son (Zen McGrath) who is clearly going to kill either himself or someone else before this thing comes to an end.

Zeller depicts the parents as clueless, as if they’ve never seen “Ordinary People” or read about all the incels who’ve shot up schools, etc. Jackman and Dern’s divorced parents don’t seem to have any connection to the real world and make all the wrong choices despite their education, wealth, and living in the most sophisticated city in the world. Only Kirby as the second wife senses the danger they’re all in, but no one will listen to her.

This movie season is just full of good acting in well made films that don’t make sense. I don’t know why. I’ve said this before: no one seems to think them through. “The Son” has no arc. It’s just a set up for disaster than ends in disaster. They should have followed the arc of the bombing raid in “Top Gun Maverick.” You fly into the steep valley, get close to the ground, release your bombs, and the climb out quickly. In this case, they just fly in, drop the bombs, and then crash into the mountain.

Dern just knows how to play a conflicted mother in pain with subtlety and grace. If you follow her, the film is torture. Jackman brings the gravity but he can’t find his way out of this mess. Newcomer Zen McGrath, who’s Australian, makes an appealing debut despite struggling with an American accent, and Kirby is a fresh addition to an old formula.

But “The Son” is not “The Father,” even with a cameo from Hopkins as Jackman’s cold-hearted father (a much different character from the first movie). Let’s hope there is no third chapter.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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