Though it’s allied only in its tonal tissue as opposed to direct leitmotif or overlapping characters, Florian Zeller’s follow-up to The Father is similarly interested in how family relate and deal with illness.
In this case – the earlier film explored dementia – the spotlight is on mental health, in particular the swelling and sadly often overlooked issues teenager’s encounter. While young people have always been just as prone to mental health issues as any other age or race, today — it would seem a more pressing, distressing issue today.
When sleek businessman Peter (Hugh Jackman, in one of his more admirable turns) is approached by ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) to take in their 17-year-old (Australian actor Zen McGrath), who is so severely depressed he hasn’t been attending school, he obviously can’t refuse. Determined – hopefully with the help of new wife (Vanessa Kirby) – that he can sort out young Nicholas’s issues, and get him back on track, Peter ultimately must resolve both his own past (Anthony Hopkins, who starred in Zeller’s The Father, plays Jackman’s on-screen father in a memorable cameo) and truth about the gravity of the matter, before any of that can possibly happen.
Via affecting, brave performances by newcomer McGrath, with Jackman and Dern as the distressed parents, The Son really hammers its message home — like an axe to ice, in fact. It’s a real and raw film, one that doesn’t always play perfectly (the final scene is iffy) but none the less stays with you long after it’s final, confronting moments.
The Son screened at the 2022 AFI Film Festival, Los Angeles.