There are films that are good mainly because their actors are. For example, that of the French director and theater maker Florian Zeller. He received a lot of praise for his drama "The Father" - which was primarily due to the outstanding leading actors Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.
Also with the follow-up "The Son" Zeller relies on a first-class line-up again. Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern play parents who are unable to help their teenage son with his serious mental health problems and despair at this helplessness.
What the actors do is impressive. But her roles in "The Son" are a bit one-dimensional. Until the very end, they have no access to their son's world of emotions and do not develop properly. For many parents, the story should still provide food for thought. Also interesting is what Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern themselves share about their parenthood. And what the film taught her.
Insights into your own parenthood
Speaking during the Venice Film Festival, where the film premiered last year, Jackman said: "One of the things I've probably changed since the film was that I'm more open about my own vulnerability. I used to think - and I was probably taught that way - that that would be a burden for the kids. That you have to be strong and present so that they can lean on you." Jackman has two children with his wife, born in 2000 and 2005.
He now sees things differently and talks more openly to his children about his insecurities. "I feel like it allows them to articulate their own fears and open up for dialogue."
No getting through
"The Son" tells the story primarily from the perspective of father Peter (Jackman), who loves his son Nicholas (Zen McGrath), but despite all attempts to get close to him, doesn't get through to him. Nicholas is depressed and skips school for weeks after his parents divorce. He no longer wants to live with his mother Kate (Dern) but wants to move in with his father.
As a lawyer with political ambitions, he is very busy professionally, and he also has a baby with his new girlfriend Beth (Vanessa Kirby). Nevertheless, he takes Nicholas in and tries to teach him a little zest for life again. But that doesn't work so well.
Peter tries very hard in his approach, but is too casual. He relates Nicholas' grief to his teenage years or heartache because he doesn't understand that sometimes depression doesn't have easy explanations. Sometimes he gets impatient or angry - until he realizes that he's embodying exactly what he hates about his own father (Anthony Hopkins in a supporting role).
Even with his own children, he often feels like he's not always doing the right thing, Jackman said. "It's super hard to know that I make mistakes all the time. I tell them, 'Oof, I was really wrong, I'm sorry.'
As a father, he sometimes longed very much for a sense of control, security and strength. But in retrospect, he would often describe himself as clueless. "And I know how hard it is to negotiate with your partner when you don't agree. Which often happens. It's an uncertain journey and I think one of the reasons I wanted to do the film was actually to explore the vulnerability we all have as parents."
Laura Dern plays Kate's mother in The Son. She reacts very emotionally to Nicholas' problems and relates what is happening to herself. "I feel like a complete failure," she once said to her ex-husband, who then gently warned her not to get so upset.
Nicholas, in turn, explains with glazed eyes and ragged breath that it's just life that's dragging him down. But we don't get a real insight into his thoughts. "The Son" doesn't actually tell about the son, but above all about the father and his powerlessness. We often see Peter staring broodingly into the distance, accompanied by string music.
"As they say in the movie, love isn't enough," Dern said in an interview. "It's heartbreaking when we realize - and we all feel like this at times - that we can't save or control a loved one, whether it's a parent, a lover, or a child."
Her own children - born in 2001 and 2004 - encourage her to take care of herself. "The constant reminder of working on this film is to lose the shame of taking care of yourself."
- The Son, USA 2022, 123 minutes, FSK from 12, by Florian Zeller, with Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, Anthony Hopkins.