Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell
Featuring The Voice of Liam Neeson
Directed By: JA Bayona
Plot: Conor (MacDougall) is watching his mother slowly dying of a disease and finding himself without a person who cares for him in the whole world. His grandmother (Weaver) seems to dislike him, and his father (Kebbell) abandoned him a while ago for a new wife and daughter in Los Angeles. So, naturally, a tree monster appears to help him through this hard time.
What Works: I really wanted to like this film. I had high hopes, and even though I caught this film on DVD, I kicked myself when I missed it in theatres. I thought the concept was cool, and I had heard such amazing things about the film. I definitely feel like I’m in the minority, but I thought the film was just OK. What I did like about the film were the adult performances. Sigourney Weaver is pretty good as a mother losing her daughter, even if she never gets a chance to really establish the mother/daughter relationship. Jones is good, but underused, as the dying mother. Kebbell is also underused, but fine. There are a few moments of decent emotional weight, sandwiched between murkier content. Even though I didn’t like the tree element, I thought Liam Neeson was a good choice for the voice.
What Doesn’t Work: I wasn’t blown away by the visuals. Everything looked CG to me, nothing looked realistic. I thought that while the concept of the tree was cool, the execution wasn’t. There’s no real explanation to why this kid is having such vivid experiences with the tree. He really believes the tree is there, though we all know it’s not. This film didn’t establish that this kid has a wild imagination, or a history of having imaginary friends. Basically, this kid is just losing his mind. And the film doesn’t deal with that, or the repercussions. We’re supposed to just accept this as “this is what kids go through when their parents die”, but it really isn’t. He’s basically developing a split personality disorder, and we all just write it off as a family film about a tree teaching a kid how to deal with death. But that’s not ACTUALLY what plays out on screen. It could have been, but the story isn’t structured for that. I also didn’t really care for Lewis MacDougall. He was cute in Pan, but here he just didn’t work for me.
Final Word: I wish I was writing about how amazing or inventive this film was, but I just can’t. To be fair, I’m in the minority. It has a 7.5 on IMDB and an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. But I couldn’t ignore that no one was addressing the problem. Maybe you can. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I did.
Final Grade: C+