Brooklyn couple Alex (Claire Danes) and Greg (Jim Parsons) have no problem with the fact that their four-year-old son, Jake (Leo James Davis), is gender-adventurous. The little boy loves pink and sparkles, dolls and fairy tales, and Mom and Dad are absolutely fine with that. It’s only when they begin the arduous process of applying to get him into any of a slew of the city’s brutally choosy private schools — which involves all manner of testing and interviews and playdates with other prospective students — that they are forced to confront the reality that not everyone is going be as accepting as they are, and that Jake is suddenly facing pushback against his very being that no four-year-old — or anyone at any age, for that matter — should have to handle.
A Kid Like Jake is not about Jake. As the unspoken but clear undercurrent of the film suggests, it’s far too early in the child’s life to know precisely what is going on with him, whether he’s simply open and curious, whether he is struggling with his gender identity, whether it’s something in between or something else entirely. Instead, screenwriter Daniel Pearle, working from his own play, focuses on Alex and Greg, and how they are coping — or not — with this new parenting challenge. How do you protect a child who is unusual without crushing everything that makes him unique? How do you foster healthy individuality and positive nonconformity in a world that has very strict boundaries for both?
Director Silas Howard creates an enveloping warmth and utter lack of artifice to Alex and Greg’s relationship, full of strife and love at this moment, and though Jake actually appears very little in the film, its atmosphere very much mirrors the tender confidence they have in their son. This is a movie as generous and as nonjudgmental as its protagonists, as gently questing as they are for a solution to their impossible quandary. Danes and Parsons are extraordinary here, exuding an engaging ease with each other as actors that makes for a remarkable portrait of a progressive marriage in which the partners are themselves trying to reconcile the external expectations placed upon them with their own innate personalities: Greg is a touchy-feely therapist who isn’t much interested in asserting himself; Alex gave up a career as a lawyer but isn’t quite happy as a stay-at-home mom either. (Danes is always stunning; Parsons is a real revelation. The stellar cast also features Octavia Spencer, Ann Dowd, and Priyanka Chopra.)
Even as it delves into raw pain and frustration, A Kid Like Jake magically maintains a relaxed, authentic naturalness that makes it feel less like a story being told and more like messy reality unfolding before us. This is a beautiful film, simple yet profound, that wrestles with the complexities of new ideas about what it means to live our best, most fulfilling lives that we’re all trying to come to grips with.
‘A Kid Like Jake’ opens at the IFC Center in New York today, with Q&As all weekend with director Silas Howard and writer Daniel Pearle, with Jim Parsons also appearing on Sunday. The films opens June 8th at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles and at the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco, and will also be available on demand across the US.
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