January 27, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “A Kid Like Jake” & “You Were Never Really Here”


A KID LIKE JAKE (no distrib):  Silas Howard’s dramedy is a small-scale triumph, successfully navigating its way from a wry account of upper-middle-class Brooklynites Alex and Greg (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) trying to get their 4-year old into private school, into a wrenching story of the family being pulled apart as Jake’s behavior suggests that he may be trans.  (Howard is himself trans, but this isn’t his story:  the excellent script by Greg Pearle is based on Pearle’s pre-existing play.)  It’s a big subject, one that goes beyond its specifics to question the nature of parenthood itself, and how much control a mother and father should try to exercise over a child whose actions may not fit in with prevailing norms.  Howard and Pearle do justice to the complexity of it all, and they’re helped by a superlative cast.  Danes and Parsons surprise on opposite ends of the scale:  Danes is refreshingly likable and funny at the outset, and when things get serious, Parsons matches her step for step, no mean feat when your scene partner is Claire Danes.  (An argument scene between the two of them toward the end of the film is as good as any 10 minutes we’ll see on screen this year.)  The leads are surrounded by great character actors, including Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Ann Dowd, and Amy Landecker.  Howard, whose experience until now has been more in episodic television than in features, provides a sleek, handsome background for the actors (the cinematography is by Steven Capitrano Calitri, and the editor is Michael Taylor).  In a brisk 92 minutes, A Kid Like Jake manages to be thought-provoking, emotionally gripping and often quite engaging, an indie that with the right handling could reach a mainstream audience.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Amazon):  Writer/director Lynne Ramsay’s entire career is built on film festival appearances, with difficult but critically praised works like her debut Ratcatcher and We Need To Talk About Kevin to her credit.  You Were Never Really Here is a purportedly more of an entertainment, her first foray into the violent action genre, but it’s still pitched more toward academics than audiences.  (The film won Best Actor and Screenplay awards at Cannes.)  Its outline (Ramsay adapted Jonathan Ames’s novel) is somewhat indebted to Taxi Driver:  protagonist Joe (Joaquin Phoenix, at his most impenetrable) is a hit man whose weapon of choice is a ballpeen hammer.  He’s hired to rescue young Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) from a child brothel, and when those who abducted her both attempt to get her back and attack Joe’s few loved ones, the bodies quickly stack up, as Joe slaughters everyone in his path.  Without Taxi Driver‘s dark humor and depth of character, it’s a B movie plotline, but Ramsay aestheticizes the bloodshed until it’s nearly abstract, while minimizing any link between the characters and recognizable human speech or behavior.  Some of this is stylish, with memorable images from cinematographer Thomas Townend and use of music (both needle-drops and an original score by Jonny Greenwood), but stylish gore isn’t really a distinction in these post-Tarantino days, and Ramsay seems to want to slum her way to popular success while convincing herself she’s still making high art.  You Were Never Really Here doesn’t get her to either place.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."