“You’re not gonna like the way this story ends. But I think you’re gonna like this story.”
Don’t Make Me Go is an honest movie from the onset, telling us through a narrated black screen that we might not be happy with how the film unfolds or where it ends. And that’s because the pit stops in between are so much more important, revelatory, and thoroughly heartfelt. It’s a film that’s at its best when it’s deeply personal, showing us a father and daughter drama that doesn’t shy away from heavy themes or the banal comedic events of everyday life. It’s not great, nor is it boring, and hitching a ride in the backseat with this duo will make you think about your own relationships. How we should hug more tightly, love openly, and learn how to ride shotgun with patience. It’s a messy movie, but a deeply empathetic one too.
The setup here is quick and clear; Max (John Cho, one of our most unheralded actors) spends his listless days as an uninspired insurance salesman, sometimes meeting the much younger Annie (Kaya Scodelario) for drinks, and trying to balance being a single parent to his daughter Wally (Mia Isaac). She’s soon to be 16, rebels against her dad’s rules but never recklessly so, and wants to learn how to drive so that she can steer own direction. But Max has been through a lot and it enforces his guard. Wally’s mom walked away before she was born, and early on we discover a brain tumor that could likely take his life if he opts for surgery. With a college reunion in sight and Wally at the tail end of her Summer break, Max chooses to live, and the road trip in his old Wagooner begins.
There are points in Don’t Make Me Go that soar, and had it been shorter and more crisply written, I imagine the entire vehicle flying with grace. It understands the paucity and fragility of warmth felt around that pivotal point where society tells you that you’re of age, and it never undermines how Max tries to plan a future he anticipates he won’t be a part of. Somewhere in here is an 85-90 movie that’s been stretched beyond its means, trying to find depth through time instead of through story, and it’s all saved by two lead performances which demonstrate how caring about another person can be difficult and confusing, but that it’s natural too. Coldness always beckons, but we gravitate towards warmth. That’s our winning nature.
The writing by Vera Herbert can be a bit clumsy and the middle definitely drags more than it should, but the clever direction from Hannah Marks illustrates how Don’t Make Me Go reminded me that life is a story we can only write through actions, and that seeking any amount of rewards require a certain amount of risk. In this film – and hopefully in this world – we want the best for those we love, and if we’re lucky the sentiment is reciprocated. Don’t Make Me Go settles for Young Adult novel tropes and struggles to be original towards its end, but the film has a soul, and that’s not something you can easily fabricate. It’s real and it resonates.
“I’d bet on you.”
Rating: 3 out of 5