sun 23/06/2024

The Son review - is each unhappy family unhappy in its own way? | reviews, news & interviews

The Son review - is each unhappy family unhappy in its own way?

The Son review - is each unhappy family unhappy in its own way?

A star cast doesn't save Florian Zeller’s overly theatrical family drama

Fatherly feelings: Hugh Jackman as Peter tries to comfort his son Nicholas (Zen McGrath)

The Son is one of those movies where everyone is acting their socks off, exhibiting their range and sensitivity to the point where one can imagine there was a bucket on the set positioned to drop in the expected awards. It may well work for Florian Zeller’s theatre fans used to a lot of intense anguished dialogue, but it’s very claustrophobic as a film and lacks the tricksy double casting of key characters that made The Father intriguing.

Hugh Jackman plays Peter, a successful lawyer, enjoying life with his new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their baby. He’s in line for a plum political role in Washington and all seems rosy. The only shadow on the horizon is Nicholas (Zen McGrath), the teenage son from his first marriage. The 17-year-old has been school refusing and his architect mother Kate (an under-used Laura Dern) is in despair. Nicholas decides he wants to live with Peter and his stepmother instead. His father remembers the carefree child his son once was and hopes he’ll re-emerge. The SonBut the black dog of depression doesn’t lift and Peter turns to his own father for insight into parenting. Anthony Hopkins gives a predictably blistering turn as a patriarch who has no sympathy for emotional weakness in either son or grandson. Toxic masculinity is the clichéd dish of the day. Hugh Quarshie is drafted in as a wise doctor who warns of the dangerous severity of Nicholas’ depression to no avail. The method Nicholas will choose to end his misery and punish his parents is sign-posted early on. The film plays out as a waiting game made no less predictable by the overtly emotion-signalling Hans Zimmer score. Zen McGrath isn’t given much to work with as Nicholas and gives a fairly one-dimensional portrait of a troubled youth.

A lot of work has gone into the art direction of the homes the key players live in, signalling through interior décor their interior lives and social status. Hopkins receives a visit from his son in the formal dining room of a grand suburban mansion. Kate lives in (presumably) the former marital home, a big, cluttered brownstone in Brooklyn. We catch a glimpse of handwritten poetic quotes on Nicholas’ bedroom walls – are those lines from Rimbaud? – presumably indicating his hopes for a future as a writer. Meanwhile the newly weds live in a gleamingly modern apartment with views on to Manhattan.

Jackman gets to show off his dance moves in an effort to encourage his son, but it's all indoors. There are flashbacks to a happy childhood summer holiday (pictured above) in France but it's not enough to get air into the movie. There are scenes in doctors' waiting rooms and a glimpse of school. Filmed in the autumn of 2021, Covid restrictions on location shooting doubtless contributed to the stagy quality of The Son. But it doesn’t wholly excuse the drama master-class atmosphere that the film exudes. Admirers of the actors involved will doubtless want to see it but it's hard to recommend it otherwise.

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