REVIEW: Poorly portrayed mental illness sinks ‘The Son’

Florian Zeller’s 2020 film “The Father” was a stellar exploration of a person going through a difficult health crisis and the impact it has on their family.

His follow-up, “The Son,” has a similar premise, but it’s not nearly as good.

Hugh Jackman stars as Peter in the film, a businessman who’s considering entering the world of politics as a consultant. Around the same time, his wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) has given birth to their new son.

The movie picks up with Peter getting contacted by his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern), who explains that their teenage son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) has been skipping school and seems troubled lately. Hoping to give Nick a better environment and a new school to try, Peter takes his son in, but even then, the teen has struggles.

Dramas featuring strife between parents and children as well as films that focus on young people dealing with mental health and other struggles can work quite well when the execution is on point. Some good examples in the last several years include “Beautiful Boy,” “Boy Erased,” “Lady Bird” and “Manchester by the Sea.”

Zeller’s latest movie is another movie with this sort of conflict between a father and son. However, the movie is let down by the portrayal of the mental illness at the heart of the picture’s conflict. A viewer quickly learns that Nicholas is suffering from depression and potentially other mental illnesses.

However, the way mental health is presented in the picture makes it feel completely inauthentic. First of all, McGrath’s performance is really rough. It’s tough to be hard on a younger actor, but he is asked to do some scenes that he simply can’t pull off.

Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

In fact, it’s easy to think Nicholas is actually faking his mental illness at times because of how unbelievable McGrath is. It’s not all on McGrath, though, as the script isn’t that helpful, either.

The writing often comes across as over dramatic and lacking nuance. It also seems rather manipulative at times, and it gets progressively worse as it goes on. In fact it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth when it gets to the ending.

It’s too bad because Jackman is really trying his damndest to make this thing work. He makes the most out of the material given, showing his character’s stress and pain over the situation, especially as he can’t seem to get through to Nicholas. The character goes through some hard times and Jackman is quite good.

Unfortunately, the film is also rather stagnant visually. Both “The Father” and “The Son” were based on plays, but it’s much more apparent with this new picture. “The Father” had clever editing and creative camerawork, which not only captured the dementia the main character was experiencing, but also made the movie more visually interesting. “The Son,” though, looks much more flat.

“The Son” is a drama that may have worked on stage, but some things went wrong in putting it on the screen. Despite a strong performance by Jackman and some good members of the supporting cast like Dern and Anthony Hopkins, the issues related to the main focus of the movie drag this down. 2 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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