'The Son' Fails to Live Up to 'The Father'

Directed by Florian Zeller

Starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, Hugh Quarshie, Anthony Hopkins

Photo courtesy of Elevation Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Jan 20, 2023

The Son befuddles viewers with every passing minute. How could a cast this talented struggle to keep the movie afloat? How could the same filmmaker who wrote and directed a film as extraordinary as The Father also be the same hand that created a film seemingly vying for the worst attempt at an after school special? Was Hugh Jackman really nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance?

Florian Zeller's visualization of dementia as a real-life horror story in The Father was an immensely affecting and moving cinematic triumph. In every way, he was able to successfully translate one of life's cruellest fates to the screen; he failed, however, to deliver in his exploration of teenage clinical depression in The Son

The central figure of The Son is the father, Peter Miller (Jackman), a stereotypical high-rolling, Manhattan lawyer who left his wife, Kate (Laura Dern), for the younger and blonder Beth (Vanessa Kirby). From Peter and Kate's long marriage, they have a son, Nicholas (Zen McGrath), now a teenager who is bitter and resentful of his father's new marriage to Beth and their newborn son, Theo. 

Throughout the film, telltale signs of Nicholas's mental health issues are spliced into painful, cliché-ridden dialogue. His loneliness, discontentment and overall detachment are made obvious to everyone watching except for Peter and Kate, who are somehow confused by their son's increasingly volatile behaviour. As the days and months slip away, the plot works itself into a never-ending cycle with the same melodrama repeating itself until it ends in the most contrived manner.

Anthony Hopkins is the one bright spot of the film, coming in at the eleventh hour for a single scene-stealing performance that, quite frankly, I would have gladly watched 90 minutes of instead. Playing the role of Peter's father, Anthony, we come to understand how Peter is in fact the film's titular son. Anthony left Peter and his mother behind and was more concerned with his career as a diplomat than being a parent or husband, leaving Peter a victim of generational trauma. Jackman and Hopkins trade barbs beautifully in the only great scene of a film truly undeserving of it.

Speaking of Jackman, putting aside the aforementioned scene with Hopkins, his performance is uneven at best, but it's hard to criticize him, Dern, Kirby or McGrath for their turns when they aren't given much to work with. The women in particular are written in such a trite and confusing fashion that it's almost insulting to Dern and Kirby's talents. 

The worst thing about The Son, though, is just how important its central subject matter is. Depression and suicide have aggressively invaded high schools, and parents are left grappling with how to best understand their children in a harsh world far different to the one they grew up in. Where a film like The Son could go thematically is endless in its pursuit to understand a teenager in this state. But rather than be thoughtful and sympathetic, Zeller presents a story so messy and overdone there's nothing but hollow manipulation for audiences to contend with.
(Elevation Pictures)

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