Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, and Anthony Hopkins
Director: Florian Zeller
Director Florian Zeller undoes all of the goodwill he garnered with his debut film, The Father, with this shallow and manipulative offering. Zeller fails to show even a basic understanding of mental health issues, and his attempts at showing familial ones lack authenticity. It’s genuinely shocking that both films are by the same director. Hugh Jackman has his moments, but no one is at their best here, particularly Zen McGrath, who just isn’t up to the task of leading this film. There’s no point in sugar coating it: The Son may be part of the awards conversation, but it’s nothing more than melodramatic bullshit.
When you have a movie about teenage depression called The Son, you need to nail the casting of the titular offspring. Sadly, this movie really dropped the ball on that. Zen McGrath doesn’t have what it takes to make you sympathetic to his character’s state of mind. Instead, he comes off as bratty and annoying. Admittedly, the writing does him no favors, giving so little backstory that it’s hard to even feel empathy for him while almost making him a side character since the son is just a pawn to examine the father. Granted, there’s a good idea in there somewhere, but it’s not on screen.
Director Florian Zeller’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning The Father, The Son, is a horrible, sadistic, and exploitative abomination. This movie is about a parent who doesn’t understand his son’s depression, which oddly mirrors the movie’s writing. Zeller just has such a narrow idea of what teenage depression is that it’s embarrassing. The cast, besides Vanessa Kirby, feel less like genuine performances and more like actors on their knees begging for an Oscar, and the ending is a series of messed-up manipulative ploys that had me sprinting out of the theatre once it finished. It’s an absolute trainwreck.
In time, The Son may ultimately go down as the worst film of director Florian Zeller’s career. What could have been a complex, nuanced look at mental health, its impact on the family, and advocating proper care for those who need it, ends up as a hackneyed, overly simplistic story with spotty acting and the reinforcement of harmful stereotypes. Hugh Jackman’s performance alone isn’t enough to salvage the weak screenplay or one-dimensional characters. While Zeller’s technical direction is fine enough, the overall disappointment of the film and its messages makes this so far one of the most discouraging movies of the year.
From the director of one of the best movies of 2020 comes one of the worst of 2022. Florian Zeller’s The Son is a miss on just about every level it can be, though not for lack of trying. The writing feels hackneyed and surface-level at best, the performances are made worse by having to utter some truly terrible dialogue, and beyond all of that, it’s a bore to look at. The Achilles heel of it, though, is Zen McGrath, whose one-note performance indicates that he is not ready to be a crucial figure in any film any time soon.
This film was reviewed by Nick and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.