Assessment | ‘The Son’ will make you squirm, for all of the incorrect causes

Remark

(1 star)

Admirers of “The Father,” Florian Zeller’s shattering 2020 drama about dementia and filial devotion, will little question be intrigued to be taught that Zeller has made “The Son,” a film that shares some (literal) DNA with its predecessor, however not one of the first movie’s subtlety, visible class or thematic heft. Mawkish, apparent and manipulative, “The Son” is, fairly merely, a disappointment, from its pat setup to its equally false — and, fairly frankly, merciless — decision.

Hugh Jackman performs Peter, a middle-aged New York legal professional who as “The Son” opens has launched into a brand new life along with his accomplice, Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and their new child when his ex-wife, Kate (Laura Dern), exhibits as much as let Peter know that Nicholas, their 17-year-old son, has been skipping college. Crimson flags abound in a narrative that seems to be about adolescent despair, in addition to grownup self-deception, generational trauma and wobbly boundaries: Peter, a fixer by nature, is satisfied he can get Nicholas again on monitor by advantage of fine intentions and sheer pressure of will. What ensues is a slow-motion wreck that the viewers can see coming down Madison Avenue, full with a Chekhovian trope that’s as on the nostril as it’s breathtakingly offensive.

Certainly, “The Son” is so ham-handed, so hysterically pitched and manufactured, that’s it’s troublesome to imagine it emanated from the identical hand that introduced such ability to limning the shifting cognitive realities in “The Father.” Anthony Hopkins starred in that movie as a person falling down a rabbit gap of confusion and temporal dislocation; right here, he performs Peter’s father, whose aggression and insensitivity play like a burlesque of poisonous masculinity. Jackman, for his half, brings depth and focus to a job that requires calibrated rising panic but additionally buttoned-up repression. (Bonus: Zeller has made positive to incorporate at the very least one scene the place we will see him dance.) And in only one look, Dern clearly conveys the grief of a ladies who has misplaced not simply her husband, however a whole future she had counted on. Sadly, Zen McGrath, because the struggling Nicholas, is given nothing to play outdoors petulance and moodiness. In contrast to, say, “Lovely Boy,” through which Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet performed a father and son embroiled in a struggle in opposition to dependancy, “The Son” doesn’t plumb any stunning depths of psychological sickness. As a substitute, Zeller appears content material to skim essentially the most lurid surfaces of a topic that’s way more sophisticated and nuanced than the inventory beats we see right here.

Nowhere is that more true than in “The Son’s” ultimate act, a glib, cynical misdirect of essentially the most melodramatic order. In a single fell swoop, Zeller breaks religion not simply along with his characters, however along with his viewers. What could also be worse, few of them will imagine a phrase of it.

PG-13. At space theaters. Accommodates mature thematic materials involving suicide, and powerful language. 123 minutes.

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