Don't Make Me Go
Don't Make Me Watch This Again.
It’s an unhappy position to review a film where the final act defines the entire picture. You can’t talk about it without spoiling the whole thing, but ignoring it would be worse. Most of the time even the act of acknowledging a late-in-the-game twist or plot point ruffles feathers.
So let’s begin with a disclaimer. Most of this review will reference the finale without outright spoiling it. But only because the film itself does so within the first few minutes. “You won’t like how this story ends,” warns our protagonist and narrator, Wally, whose father Max finds out he might not have long to live. So, in a last-ditch effort, he loads his precocious daughter into the car for one last road trip across America.
It’s no surprise what happens next. Every expected plot point for this type of story makes an appearance. Those familiar with this particular subset of tearjerkers won’t even need the roadsigns for what lies ahead. They’ll navigate purely on muscle memory.
Which is part of the problem. For something this familiar to work, the film needs something immensely grounding so it doesn’t float away. Otherwise, it’s so thin on content it’s basically translucent.
Some of that anchorage is there, in all fairness. Mainly in the shape of John Cho, a charismatic, immensely likable actor who consistently is the best thing in even the worst production. As Max, he’s vulnerable, filled with regret, and finds a way to navigate the often clunky heart-to-hearts with grace. Without him, there is no movie. It’s that simple.
Mia Isaac, playing Wally, is a newcomer making her debut here. She struggles with the complicated role, but it’s clear the script does her no favors either. Despite serving as both narrator and our viewpoint lead, Wally remains more of a cipher than her father. By the time the inevitable bonding happens, it’s hard to say which one has lowered their guard because we’ve never learned what their inner worlds look like.
Then there’s that last act, which, depending on who you are, is either the perfect happy-sad-finale or a devastating cop-out that ruins everything before it. For what it’s worth, at least it doesn’t come in lukewarm. There is no middle ground here.
I just wish the rest of the film had such purity of vision. The ending is a thoroughly unsatisfying mess, but at least it’s a mess that goes for it without giving one damn if others like it. However it lands, I respect any film that will go out on its terms.
But that doesn’t extend to anything else in the picture. Don’t Make Me Go doesn’t just follow the guidebook on how these types of films are made, it adamantly refuses to make even the slightest detour from the established formula. Like comfort food, you get exactly what’s promised. But it’s neither nourishing nor ever really as good as you think it will be. Even if it feels like a good idea to go for it at the time.