Don’t Make Me Go is a story of self-discovery and realization. This movie has a message to really unwind and be upfront about everything. To say it follows the tropes of a coming-of-age film would not be fair to this Hannah Marks directorial. Is that a spoiler? Not really, as the first line of the film goes, “you’re not gonna like the way this story ends, but I think you’re gonna like the story.”
Now that’s quite an interesting way to start as you question what happens that will not make you like the ending. However, it’s not one that explicitly gives away the ending and only makes you focus on how you will get there.
The film is about a single father in his early 40s, Maxwell Park (John Cho), and his daughter Wallis ‘Wally’ Park (Mia Isaac). Max is the typical father who tries his best to provide his daughter with a lifestyle that would make her happy. He lives what his daughter describes as a rather boring life and always looks to play it safe; investment, future, zero risk, you name it. On the flip side, she is akin to the usual teenager. Wally wishes to be adventurous. Within the first few minutes, we learn that Max is terminally ill and has just a year to live or a surgery with a 20% success rate. No prizes for guessing his choice. However, considering his inclination to plan for the future (it would be only natural for it to emerge) he decides to help Wally meet his ex-wife/her mother. They head off on a road trip where he imparts valuable life lessons to her, conceals things, and learns that he, too, can be a student.
As Don’t Make Me Go progresses, you may forget the message right at the start as you get immersed in the beauty of the American countryside and teenage exuberance. Wally learning to drive and punch an ATM pin is indicative of the subtle ways in which her father is trying to guide her. She doesn’t understand why, but she suspects it. When she does probe, Max’s look of pain emerges for a second before he brushes it aside. Jaron Presant’s camera lingers on it for an extra few milliseconds to make you pay attention to it.
This is quite clear on his face throughout Don’t Make Me Go as he battles with his two desires: A. To not reveal a dark truth to Wallis i.e. the only family he has B. To live up to his promise to not conceal anything from her. The pain is evident in his face as he stares into the distance in response to accusations of him never telling her anything. He also has a melancholic look on his face as he teaches Wally to dance.
Writer Vera Herbert makes good use of a road trip as a way to help the characters connect and come across numerous situations where they could weave instances of preparing one for the future.
The screenplay makes the audience feel for the character, and indirectly positions Wally as the selfish, spoiled child. They play on the audience’s knowledge of where this film is going. Max isn’t whitewashed though as his flaws emerge. This is what makes the film feel real, as the protagonist is presented as a regular human being.
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Wally is the rebel who sneaks out at night, drinks whilst upside down, and protests at being kept in the dark. Every being of Isaac oozes a sense of independence and the ability to take the risk. She proves to be the catalyst of the modern independent youngster, who adopts lessons from the elders and adapts them with a twist. Her performance isn’t something that would be remembered, but she breathes life into this film that could get dragged down (and shouldn’t) by Cho’s impressive portrayal of a terminally ill individual who knows how precious time is.
With the shooting stars, the landscape, the smashing of dreams, and the inevitable scene, it is possible that you may have forgotten the start. Perhaps you may believe that the portion after the perceived ending, which may not have been liked (by Wally), was the epilogue. This worked well, as one may have attributed Wally’s first line to her constantly unsatisfied nature. Even if one didn’t pick up on that, there was the obvious and the fact that the journey of discovery was enthralling enough to take your mind off everything while driving the audience towards to expected ending, only to…
Don’t Make Me Go is a heart-wrenching movie that surprised me. It showed me that the risk with a slight chance of success is worth taking. For those who would blindly put it all on the line, well, Max didn’t do that. This film provided the notion that you are never too old and can always pick up and incorporate tips from anyone. It also tells you to do the things you want at the earliest and let go.