A kid Like Jake (2018) Film Review

Rating 12
Length 1h32
Release 23.12018 (Sundance FF. No UK release)
Director Silas Howard
About Alex Wheeler and her husband, Greg, are trying to find the right primary school for their 4-year-old son, Jake. Described as gender-expansive by his adviser, Jake’s increasingly erratic behaviour starts to cause a rift between the couple. Alex worries that the adults in her son’s life are labelling him prematurely, while Greg wonders if Jake’s fondness for dressing up might be more than just a phase.
Moon: no moon sighting
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

First Thoughts

I just want to preface this review with the fact that I will be using they/them/their pronouns to refer to Jake as the film refers to Jake as he/him yet presents a character that would identify with she/her.

I would also like to point out that this film is directed by Silas Howard, a trans man, and written (both screen and play scripts) by a cis man. While this may not seem important to many, I have found it difficult to write this review about ‘how well’ it presents the issue of gender being a cis woman. I don’t like the idea that this review might imply I know better than those involved in the production. I certainly don’t. However, this film made me feel things, think things and I wanted to put them down on paper. I also want people to know that I’ve done my research before writing this review.

The Good

  • Jim Parsons is a surprise in this role. I must admit, I have no complaints about his performance, however I must say he brought his all to the monologue he was given in the final act.
  • This film has a really well rounded cast.
  • The camera angles and cuts around Jake, at least at the start, are quite clever. It was probably about 10 minutes after Jake had been introduced that I realised I’d not see their face. It was at least another 4 before we did.

The Bad

  • Claire Danes can cry. We all know this. That’s not up for debate. I personally would want any creatives to question whether they want her to cry if they ever cast her.
    It’s harsh, I’m aware. However, there’s something inherently annoying about the way she cries. It always comes across as whiney and annoying.
  • There’s some really bad editing choices going on. Octavia Spencer is introduced fairly early on as a teacher of Jake. The conversations between her and Claire Dane’s Alex are full of unsaid conflict. At first, I thought it was perhaps to do with how Judy (Spencer) was trying to bring up the topic of gender identity. However, it is close to the end of the movie that it is brought up that Judy is a lesbian. Now, I am one who prefers my films to bring up the sexuality of characters in the most organic way possible. This was not the case here, when the reason why there is this tension is because Alex is of the misconception that Judy is encouraging Jake’s behaviour due to her sexuality.
  • While on the topic of Judy; there’s a scene between herself and Greg (Parsons) in which they talk about the gender politics of skirts. Now the final line of the scene is Judy questioning “So you didn’t tell Jake that there are men in our culture who wear dresses?”
    My problem with that, is that its not very clear. This film dances around so much of the politics surrounding gender identity and transitioning that the question raised could be misinterpreted to be representative of being trans, when in fact we would not use the word ‘men’. The question should be clearly speaking about the culture of drag, but the film is so devoid of any LGBTQ language that it really makes this a difficult watch.

The Ugly

  • I think the biggest issue with this film is that they show us Jake. The play, I’m led to believe, never shows the audience Jake and that allows for a much more clinical approach to the dialogue. As this film stands, its at odds with itself. The film is presenting the gender identity of Jake, at least to me, as something less certain. However, I see Jake. I see that Jake is expressing herself and that the film dances around it and decides to point fingers at the adults instead.
  • The film spends more time building up to the final act fight between the two protagonists; who use that time to pinpoint why the other is the reason their child “likes to wear dresses” that ignores any opportunity to actually explore the elephant in the room. I use that turn of phase because that is exactly what this film is like. It builds up to it, you can feel that its going to say something profound…. and then it chickens out even at the most simplest of things.
  • The lack of trans-aware gender-positive language really irritated me. You have a protagonist who is a psychiatrist yet at no point is there a conversation about identity or what it means to feel like you have been born in the wrong body.

Final Thoughts

Due to the film’s lack of conviction, the dialogue is sanitised of any debate or educational language. It leaves the viewer with the message that all parents will ever do is blame their actions. It really is a shame because the components are all there to have this uplifting and enlightening film.

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