Film Review: The Son (2022)

A misguided adaptation of a Florian Zeller play, The Son is painful

“What is it that isn’t working for you”

Perhaps cheered on the by the award-winning success of the cinematic adaptation of The Father, it is perhaps little surprise that Florian Zeller and co have turned to another of his plays to try and recapture the same magic. It is thus a shame that they went with The Son, seen in the West End back in 2019, which proved to be one of his less interesting works.

As a writer so known for his inventiveness in form and structure, Zeller perhaps enjoyed wrong-footing audiences with the relative straight-forwardness of The Son. But in removing the tricksiness with his writing, greater attention gets paid (or rather, can be paid) to the content and with this play, there’s a serious deficit in the presentation of this narrative.

Sadly, the screenplay here does little to address that, written by Zeller with frequent collaborator Christopher Hampton, as it depicts a shattered family’s troubling experience with depression and a mental health crisis. Zen McGrath’s reclusive teenager Nicholas is the one suffering but as the title suggests, Hugh Jackman’s paterfamilias Peter is the focus.

Which isn’t a problem in and of itself, the perspective of those around such issues is highly valuable. The problem comes with the sheer naïveté with which that perspective is presented here. Depression is treated as a completely alien subject by all, as if it has never been heard of before, and this completely ruins the dynamics of the interpersonal relationships here, all seeming so artificial.

Peter divorced Nicholas’ mother and now has a new wife and kid, which has long estranged father and son. Nicholas is unhappy at his mum’s though and so it is decided that he’ll stay with his dad to see if that addresses some of his issues, despite the fact he has a newborn and there’s a gun in the apartment…

Even with actors of the calibre of Jackman, Laura Dern and Vanessa Kirby, Zeller’s direction is painfully arch throughout and even a late digression into something slightly more interesting isn’t enough to save this clunker.

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