While A Kid Like Jake is admirable in its choice of subject matter, it ends up being a milquetoast drama with no sense of style and little narrative coherence.
Alex (Claire Danes) and Greg (Jim Parsons) live a seemingly comfortable life. They’re happily married, are financially well-off, and love their 4 year old son Jake (Leo James Davis). Unfortunately for them, their secure living situation is suddenly upended when they find out the school district lines have been redrawn. Desperate to get Jake into a good kindergarten before the new school year starts, Alex and Greg struggle to prove their son’s worth to dozens of private schools. However, Jake’s gender identity suddenly comes into question, providing the catalyst for revealing multiple problems in Alex and Greg’s marriage.
A Kid Like Jake may seem to be about the titular child, but the film surprisingly chooses to follow Alex and Greg, sidelining Jake’s gender identity and using it as no more than a prop to drive the narrative. We barely see Jake, barely hear Jake talk, and don’t know what’s going through Jake’s mind. What is arguably the most interesting part of the story is almost completely ignored in favor of vapid marital drama and an uninteresting quest to get into the best kindergarten. The kindergarten plot has little tension, mostly because we never get a clear sense of who Jake is. What’s more is that the film padds its running time with scenes of Greg seeing patients. He’s a therapist, and we mostly see him meet with a woman whose marriage is dissolving before her eyes. What purpose do these scenes have in terms of narrative? They mostly seem to exist to try and push the film toward a ninety minute running time.
Another sequence that doesn’t propel the narrative forward is when Halloween rolls around and Jake wants to go as a princess. Multiple scenes build up to Halloween: Alex shopping for a costume, Alex and Greg discussing whether to buy a dress for Jake, Jake protesting their purchase of a costume that’s not a princess’ dress. None of these scenes add to any newfound narrative development. They only serve to illustrate what the audience already knows, that Jake doesn’t identify with traditionally masculine clothing and Alex and Greg don’t know how to handle it. Scenes such as these will repeat throughout the film, reinforcing the idea that Alex and Greg don’t know what they’re doing, but failing to ratchet up tension or provide much character development. It becomes tiring to watch them make the same mistakes and face the same issues over and over.
Even with how repetitive and frustrating A Kid Like Jake is, there are some instances of pleasure one can derive from it. Genuinely touching moments pop up here and there, most notably the ending and the few humorous scenes between Jake and other children. Additionally, the dialogue can be unintentionally funny at times, with lines like “it’s Freud’s fault you miscarried” delivered with such oblivious self-seriousness that one can’t help laughing out loud. That said, the worst aspect of A Kid Like Jake is that it doesn’t go anywhere. Whatever conflict is there feels shoehorned in and underdeveloped, and the film feels like a missed opportunity because it sidelines its most important and interesting aspect of the story, Jake. Not only does the narrative lack direction, but the film is shot like any of the myriad made-for-tv specials churned out each year. The whole movie ends up feeling utterly bland and tepid, with no major insights, no compelling characters, and nothing in the way of a strong thesis other than “be kind.”
Signature Entertainment presents A Kid Like Jake on Amazon Prime on September 4th.
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