A Kid Like Jake
Drama / Family
A Kid Like Jake
Drama / Family
A Brooklyn couple has always known that their four-year-old son is more interested in fairy tale princesses than toy cars. But when his preschool director points out that his gender-nonconforming play may be more than a phase, the couple is forced to rethink their roles as parents and spouses.
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June 07, 2018 at 06:44 AM
it's really about the adults
Claire Danes and Jim Parsons give some impassioned performances in this tale about the parents, teachers and other adults in the orbit of a 4 year-old who exhibits some indication of gender non-conformity which morphs into something slightly more violent after some bullying and attempts to set boundaries. Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra and Ann Dowd comprise the strong supporting cast. Everyone is trying to do their best in a sensitive situation. That's where the tension builds.
This movie isn't so much about clear-cut solutions, but more about how painful it is to feel the burden of doing what's considered right... and everyone has a different idea of exactly what that is. Plus each character has stresses which complicates their perceptions.
Ultimately, being nurturing, supportive and patient seems to be the bow tied on this brief interlude. But, I'd say, this movie is less about concrete answers and more about the situation, capped with some gut-wrenching dramatic presentation.
if you enjoy arguing
Greetings again from the darkness. Hot societal topics often become fodder for new movies, and this usually results in a slew of similar stories - some good, others not so good. Currently, discussions of gender identity is second only to Trump-bashing in terms of media attention, and so we can expect Hollywood to rush-to-production in order to capitalize. This latest from director Silas Howard had a timing advantage as it was adapted by writer Daniel Pearle from his own play.
The titular Jake is a 4 year old (his 5th birthday party plays a role) who enjoys fairy tales and dressing like a princess. His stay-at-home mom (Claire Danes as Alex Wheeler) and psychologist father (Jim Parsons as Greg Wheeler) are aware of Jake's preferences, but as with most things in their marriage, what minimal conversation occurs is of the over-the-top arguing type. The "issue" is painfully and awkwardly brought to the forefront as the parenting couple subject themselves to the Private Pre-School application process.
The challenges of parenthood, including judgmental friends and relatives, and the competitive nature of comparisons, are beyond obvious in most every scene of Act 1. Even Alex's (probably not coincidental that her name is gender-neutral) mother (Ann Dowd) is passive-aggressive in her judgments of Alex quitting her job as a lawyer to stay home with her son. Octavia Spencer co-stars as Jake's teacher and counselor to the Wheelers during the application process, and even her role has a twist designed to elicit more judgment and discrimination.
There is really nothing convincing throughout the film. It's barely Lifetime Channel material, with a simplified emphasis on the difficulties of raising a non-conforming child. The incessant arguing amongst parents, family members, and friends makes each successive scene more annoying than the previous. The film should have been entitled "Parents Like Jake's" because Jake has almost no screen time, while Ms. Danes flashes her "Carrie cry-face" (for "Homeland" fans) incessantly.
Certainly the topic of gender identity and non-conformity is worthy of discussion and analysis, as it has entered mainstream conscience in less than one generation. Anxiety and confusion exists, and even well-meaning conversation can take a wrong turn quickly. We just need - and deserve - better guidance than this film provides.
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It's really about the parents of Jake
SPOILER: Given that this was originally written as a play, it may be unavoidable that most of the story is of the adults. Jake's father is a Freudian-style psychologist, and there is a fair degree of filler as he repeatedly meets with a client. Jake's mother has had ballet training, had worked as a lawyer, but dropped out to be a full-time mother, to the disapproval of HER mother.
Filled with fairy tales read by his mother, there is little attempt by either parent to "correct" Jake's non-gender-conforming behavior - wearing dresses, playing the role of princess. Even at a queer-friendly pre-school, there are signs of trouble. Things get worse when the parents try to place Jake in a private kindergarten, where trial placements often end up with verbal abuse and fights.
The entire story happens over maybe 8 months, so there is no answer to the question as to whether Jake grows out non-conforming behavior, or actually identifies as a girl. I did note that Jake's last scene had him wearing not a dress but a tutu. Was it all simply his mother's influence?