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Martian Child (2007)
What a sweet film
'Tis the season for epic Oscar contending dramas and the ever under-performing family dramas/romantic comedies at the cinema. This is really the only time of year when I really crave a good schmaltz-fest. The air is cold and dry, and I really want to go to the movies and come out two hours later feeling warm and fuzzy and damp from tears of joy. If you're craving a film like that this winter, Martian Child might just be the cure for what ails you.
The story is unassailably touching. David Gordon (John Cusack) is a widower who decides to adopt a child. He chooses a "hard-to-place" child, Dennis (Bobby Coleman), who is convinced he's from Mars. Gordon, a science fiction writer, is a misfit himself, and tends to also escape into fantasy, so he feels connected to the child. The story is about their struggle to understand each other and to make the rest of the world just let them be weird.
The script is adapted from the David Gerrold novel, The Martian Child. It's mostly faithful to the text, except that the David in the book is a single gay man. That's probably why the story behind the dead wife is never told and the romance between David and Harlee is never developed or resolved. Those parts are completely secondary to the point of the film. But that makes me wonder why they couldn't have left the character alone. It might just be audience manipulation. It's impossible to not be sympathetic with a lonely widower, after all. Nevertheless, the introduction of a dead wife did make for a beautiful scene where Cusack is quietly weeping as he flips through old pictures of her.
The acting could not have been more convincing. John Cusack usually plays the ultra-cool and/or neurotic urbanite bachelor roles, but David Gordon is the first of a few roles where he plays the unfortunate father. In this summer's 1408, Cusack grieved his dead daughter. In the Sundance darling Grace is Gone, he plays a widower who takes his two daughters on a road trip while he figures out how to tell them their soldier mother was killed in Iraq. It's a refreshing turn, and he pulls it off effortlessly. And, as a warning, the couple dozen women, who aren't already in love with Cusack, will surely be won over by his performance in this film.
Bobby Coleman is at once creepy and adorable, a la Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Joan Cusack makes her tenth appearance alongside her brother as... his sister. She brings much needed comic relief as the frazzled mother of two boys, who attempts to disabuse him of his parental confidence. Amanda Peet turns in a lovely performance as the longtime friend of John's dead wife, who obviously would like to take her late friend's place. Oliver Platt is hilarious as Cusack's agent. Angelica Huston redeems a ridiculous scene as his publisher. Richard Schiff, of The West Wing fame, is the begrudging case worker.
The chemistry between the cast members is fantastic, probably because the majority of the major players had worked with the star before. John Cusack has appeared in earlier films with Coleman (Must Love Dogs), Peet (Identity), Platt (The Ice Harvest), and Huston (The Grifters).
The script did leave a little bit to be desired here and there. What it lacked most was subtlety. But, a self-respecting film snob should be able to put that aside and still enjoy the story, the acting, and the beautiful cinematography. Also, director Menno Meyjes, who also worked with Cusack once before (Max), kept the film concise and engaging.
For sure, every parent would be able to relate with and enjoy Martian Child. It is the must-see warm movie of the cold season.