Despite two good performances, the only thing Don’t Make Me Go proves is we just can’t have nice things.
This review of the Amazon original film Don’t Make Me Go does not contain spoilers.
We just can’t have nice things. I’ll repeat those first six words twice before finishing this review of Hannah Marks’s latest. Films like this will usually end two ways before it approaches that fork in the road moment. This type of movie operates in a way that builds up to the point of manipulation. You expect the film to end in a way that will be so sickeningly sweet, perhaps even enjoyable. The other expectation may cause you to have a cathartic cry. Very rarely can one do both, at least, that is where I was sure we were headed before such an unexpected and inexplicable third-act diversion of Vera Herbert’s (Awkward) script that undoes all the clever work done here. Instead of taking a left or right, Don’t Make Me Go drives up the middle of that fork and goes off-road. Again, we just can’t have nice things.
Herbert’s script follows two central characters. One is Max Park (John Cho), a teacher who just found out he has a terminal form of cancer called Chordoma. It is rare because it only accounts for 1% of all tumors. This makes his options limited. He can choose surgery, which gives him an 80% chance of dying on the table. If he forgoes the procedure, he has about a year, maybe less. The problem is he is raising a 16-year-old daughter by himself, Walley (newcomer Mia Isaac). Max knows he is her only family. So, he wants to take the year to ensure she is taken care of. That means taking a road trip to New Orleans under the pretense of attending his college reunion, but he secretly wants to reunite Walley with her mother.
Marks’ film has two very good performances, which is a shame considering all the goodwill built up here. Cho brings traits of stoicism, emotionally strong traits, and a big dork when trying to impress his daughter. He does it in a way that will make any woman past thirty swoon. (Even the “dad bod” is apparently in now, so rejoice). He is funny and even moving regarding that big moment the film is building towards. However, the surprise here is Isaac. She is a real find who has no trouble holding her own. Isaac brings intelligence, even grace, combined with youthful exuberance and anxiousness, all while putting an entertaining spin on her character. Both are wonderful here, and watching them interact on screen is awfully enjoyable. Their relationship may have proved Euripides right when he said, “To a father growing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter.”
That is what makes Don’t Make Me Go so disappointing. Yes, we have seen road trip movies like this before. However, that does not mean when something is similar, you can’t make a good one. In fact, you should resist the urge to be different for differences’ sake. This is what unfolded for her. The shift in the third act is handled clumsily and is forced. Then, a remarkable shift in tone comes with a narration that seems to have been ripped out of a bad young-adult novel. And finally, while uncommon, one of the main characters acts so peculiarly that no trace of human emotion would come with something as life-changing as this.
What happens here by the end of Marks’s movie simply takes away too much from the memory of the first 90 minutes. This does not make Don’t Make Me Go bad, far from it. It just can’t be recommended. As I said before, it just means we can’t have nice things.
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