What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that although there's very little in the way of language, sex, and violence in this well-acted family drama, it does deal with some serious themes -- including death (of both humans and pets) and abandonment -- that are on the heavy side for young viewers, who may need guidance understanding what they see. Parents are shown discussing their frustrations with their kids and yelling at them, and kids are shown cruelly teasing a main character and calling him "weird." Some social drinking, but only among adults.
What's the story?
Kids are from Mars, and parents are from, well, Venus. That's the premise behind MARTIAN CHILD, director Menno Meyjes' film based on David Gerrold's novella. The dramedy follows what happens when successful sci-fi writer David Gordon (John Cusack), still reeling two years after his wife's death, adopts a troubled boy named Dennis (a heart-tugging Bobby Coleman). Abandoned by his parents, Dennis is far more distressed than his peers. He speaks his own language, hangs upside down, eats only Lucky Charms, lives in a box most of the time for fear of the sun (David earns his trust by supplying him with loads of sunblock and, later, sharing baseball tips), and steals from nearly everyone. Oh, and he claims he's from Mars. Soon, David's relying on his sister, Liz (Joan Cusack), and his wife's best friend, Harlee (Amanda Peet), for advice, wondering if he's in way over his head.
Is it any good?
Part About a Boy and part E.T., Martian Child attempts to maintain a sense of mystery by suggesting that Dennis could perhaps be actually from Mars. (He makes wishes that appear to come true.) Intriguing as this may be, it's a distraction from the film's more interesting questions: Is parenting worth the trouble? Do we expect too much from children? And are we all just separate planets in a massive universe that need to converge to save ourselves from extinction?
Director Meyjes' film boasts impressively strong performances but is hampered by a bipolar script that bounces from touching to treacly and back again and dialogue that's sometimes way too obvious. "Just be yourself," David constantly tells Dennis when, in reality, he expects his son to fall in line with the new world order. A psychiatrist character seems more of a caricature than the smart, empathetic shrink you'd think would make decisions about adoption. And one ultra-dramatic scene two-thirds of the way through the film feels contrived, as if it's placed there to force a moment of connection between David and Dennis. Still, could there be a more naturalistic actor than John Cusack? He's been in a few duds lately, and although Martian Child is no Say Anything, it's certainly a step in the right direction.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about being different. Can standing out from the crowd really make you feel like you're from another planet? Kids: Have you ever felt that way? How did you handle it? Is it easier to be more like your peers? Why or why not? How can you stay proud of your individuality if other kids single you out for being different? Families can also discuss why parents and children are often shown at odds in movies. Are they really all that different? In what ways? Why does this subject make great fodder for Hollywood?