Janie, a 9-year-old girl, has a perfect life as an only daughter in a loving family. Her life, however, gets completely shattered when Ben, the little brother she never knew existed, unexpectedly shows up to live with her family.
What's the nature of being a parent and of being a child? David is a widower grieving for two years. He writes science fiction and was considered weird as a boy. He meets Dennis, a foster child who claims to be on a mission from Mars, stays in a large box all day, fears sunlight, and wears a belt of flashlight batteries so he won't float away. David takes the six-year-old home on a trial. His sister and his wife's best friend offer support, but the guys are basically alone to figure this out. Dennis takes things, is expelled, and is coached by David in being normal. Will the court approve the adoption, and will Dennis stay? Can a man become a father and a child become a son? Written by
Required Viewing for Offbeat Parents of Kids with Emotional or Developmental Issues
Humor and heart blend well in MARTIAN CHILD (MaCh), adapted by Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins from science fiction writer David Gerrold's real-life story (except that gay David Gerrold is portrayed here as straight widower David Gordon) of adopting a little boy who'd been mistreated and abandoned so many times, he'd come to believe he was from Mars. As funny and winsome as it is poignant, MaCh is one of the few films about an unconventional family life that doesn't pile on eccentricity for eccentricity's own sake, showing that it's possible to build a happy life and learn to love others despite the personal flaws and developmental/emotional issues of everyone involved. I loved the rapport and chemistry between David and his adopted son Dennis, portrayed endearingly by the ever-appealing John Cusack (reuniting with his MAX director Menno Meyjes) and young Bobby Coleman. It made me think of the scene in GROSSE POINTE BLANK with Cusack's Martin Blank holding a baby, looking at it with this delightful mixture of puzzlement and wonder. (Could that baby have grown up to be Dennis? :-)). The life of a science fiction writer gets some good-natured ribbing, too, in scenes where David has to deal with his agent (Oliver Platt, reuniting with Cusack after his scene-stealing turn in THE ICE HARVEST. Now that Cusack's longtime bud and co-star Jeremy Piven has a steady gig with TV's ENTOURAGE, has Platt become Cusack's new Piven? :-)) and his publisher (I won't spoil the wonderful cameo). Joan Cusack also turns up to provide able support for her bro as David's married sister, full of harried yet sage advice: "The thing about kids is, they keep coming at you." In fact, her family scenes often cracked me up, like her admonishment to her rambunctious boys (or as she affectionately calls them, "Omen One and Omen Two"): "Get off that dog! He's 200 years old in human years. Would you do that to Grandma?" I loved her husband's attitude: "Hey, all kids are from Mars. At least your kid admits it." Although MaCh takes time to have fun even when things get serious (loved David and Dennis's Martian walk/dance to the Guster song "Satellite") and is generally upbeat, with quite a bit of gentle humor, it doesn't shy away from showing the difficulties of adopting an emotionally scarred child, with the frustration and sadness inherent in such a situation. Having adopted our niece after my mother-in-law died, I can tell you from personal experience that picking up in the middle of raising somebody else's child is a challenge even in the best of circumstances, and MaCh captures this aspect well. It also shows that parents, especially those of us raising kids with special needs, often walk a fine line between accommodating a kid's genuine needs and being overly if well-meaningly indulgent. We've adapted David's advice to Dennis for our own child, who was diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome: "When you're at home, it's okay to be from Mars. But when you're out in the world, you have to follow Earth rules." Perhaps you have to have experience in these kind of family situations to best appreciate MaCh (I've noticed that real-life parents tend to appreciate it more than, say, professional film critics :-)). MARTIAN CHILD should be required viewing for unconventional parents of children with emotional or developmental issues and other serious problems. By the way, when I saw MaCh in our local multiplex, there were a number of parents seeing the film with kids (not tiny tykes, but elementary school age and older), and they all seemed to enjoy it, too.
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