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July 15, 2022 / Prime

Starring: John Cho, Mia Isaac, Kaya Scodelario

Directed By: Hannah Marks

When a single father to a teenage daughter learns that he has a fatal brain tumor, he takes her on a road trip to find the mother who abandoned her years before and to try to teach her everything she might need over the rest of her life.

Written By Darren

Rating 3 out of 5

Don’t Make Me Go is an emotionally engaging film that is carried by two strong performances from John Cho and Mia Isaac, but unfortunately is dragged down by being too dramatic and failing to capture the honesty of the story at play.

Road trip films naturally lend themselves to good character development, as there is a set journey for the characters to go on. The road trip itself is a metaphor for the development of the characters over the course of the film, slowly allowing the character to grow as an individual. And that is what this fim relies on, which tells the story of a father and daughter on a road trip. After discovering that he has terminal cancer, single father Max Park takes his fifteen year old daughter Wally on a road trip to his twenty year university reunion, hoping to introduce her to her mother who left them when Wally was a baby so she will have a family once he passes. But, Max hides his illness from Wally, while Wally is annoyed that her father is dragging her on this trip and acts out as any typical rebellious teenager would.

The film is full of the tropes that you find in a cancer film that strive to tug at your heart strings throughout the film. Some of them work, while others don’t because it is hard to attach to the characters in the film. The screenplay keeps them at a distance, never truly opening them up to the audience, instead forcing the events that the characters face to create a connection to the audience. It works well enough, but it prevents the film from finding something truly honest to say about the situation faced by the characters. Because, thematically speaking, there is a lot to unpack in this film between the illness and the family dynamic that both father and daughter are going through. Then, the film pulls that emotional sucker punch that you know this genre will go for, but it is so out of left field that it truly leaves you in shock as you don’t expect the story to end that way. It’s such an ending that makes it hard to recommend this film, as it’s pretty depressing, and unlike other cancer films like 50/50 and The Fault In Our Stars which I could watch endlessly despite being emotionally taxing, this film does not have the attachment to the characters that make it easy to recommend.

Helping to elevate the writing are the lead performances of John Cho and Mia Isaac. Cho, who I have been a fan of since 2009’s Star Trek, is great as Max, perfectly capturing the worry that this father is facing knowing that he has limited time left alive. He brings a warmth and compassion to the role that makes it easy to feel for his character. Also, the film has him singing and he actually has a pretty good voice! Let the campaign start for him to be cast in a musical! Isaac does exactly what is asked of her as Wally, even if her character is tough to warm up to. The film works best when Cho and Isaac are developing the father-daughter bond between their characters, as the two of them make a wonderful on screen pair, but unfortunately the screenplay keeps them apart even if the focus of the film is the evolution of their relationship over the course of the road trip. The film is mainly the two of them, but Kaya Scodelario does give a beautiful yet small supporting performance as Max’s love interest Annie.

Creating the landscape of the United States is New Zealand, which aside from the beach scene that opens the film, it easily doubles for the United States. The cinematography captures some wonderful shots of the landscapes and horizon, creating some truly spectacular shots over the course of the road trip.

There is nothing bad about this film, it easily passes the time with its sweet yet melodramatic story. But, it left me wanting a deeper emotional connection to the characters to allow the emotional suckerpunch in the final act of the film to truly land and leave the audience in an emotional wreck as it intends to. John Cho and Mia Isaac elevate a screenplay that cannot capture the relationship and characters it focuses so heavily on, making Don’t Make Me Go a sweet yet largely forgettable drama.

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