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'The Son' is so bad you almost can't believe it

‘The Son’ is so bad you almost can’t believe it

With all the market research and focus groups that drive the movie world, it’s rare for something as ill-conceived as “The Son” to slip through the cracks.

Florian Zeller’s dark sequel to his Oscar-winning “The Father” is only loosely tied to that film, both in story and quality. The title could refer either to Peter (Hugh Jackman), an elite political strategist, or to his troubled child Nicholas (Zen McGrath), who lives with his mother, Kate (Laura Dern), and has not been well. adapted to the divorce or death of his parents. his father’s remarriage to Beth (Vanessa Kirby).

At the start of “The Son”, Nicholas announces that he would rather live with his father, a sign that all is not well in this amicably divorced world of Restoration Hardware. Before long, there are problems at school and at home and a doctor, who has institutionalized Nicholas for his depression and other issues, tells Peter and Kate that they must take Nicholas’s health. their son seriously.

This is where “The Son” goes off the rails. It’s an interesting idea for Zeller to portray Peter and Kate as unable to separate Nicholas’ health from their parenting successes and failures, but the storyline begins to make no sense as they react to their son’s struggles.

It defies belief, for example, that they would keep loaded guns in their homes or that a family that lives with privilege and comfort in the therapist-rich heartland of Manhattan would have no knowledge of mental health issues. It becomes even less believable when Peter’s father appears late in the film. It’s not just that they don’t know how to deal with depression, but that they seem to have never heard of it.

As in “The Father”, Zeller has a knack for capturing the details of a troubled domestic life. The shifting relationships are compelling, especially the one between Nicholas and his stepmother, which seems to have the most potential because it’s the least clearly delineated. There’s also something truthful about the way Nicholas’ parents, feeling helpless, both hope the other will have a better answer than theirs.

Zeller always does a great job with actors, especially Jackman and McGrath. But just about everything that happens in “The Son” once Nicholas receives his diagnosis is not only hard to swallow but also irresponsible. The film has nothing to say about mental illness, except to exploit it to generate suspense, as in “What terrible event will happen next because of the parents’ blindness?”

This is probably the worst of the many bad things in “The Son”. He never really cares about what’s going on with Nicholas, only defining his health issues in terms of how they impact the adults in his life.

Ultimately, I guess that means Jackman is playing the main character. But that doesn’t matter. Whether it’s Jackman or McGrath, the movie completely fails them.

‘The son’

0 out of 4 stars

Note : PG-13, for language and dark subjects.

Where: In theaters Friday.