Synopsis: After learning he has a fatal brain tumor, a single father takes his teenage daughter on a road trip to find the mother who abandoned her years before and teaches her everything she might need over the rest of her life.
Stars: John Cho, Mia Isaac, Mitchell Hope, Jemaine Clement, Stefania LaVie Owen, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Hannah Marks
Running Length: 109 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Make sure to go and read that synopsis for Don’t Make Me Go again before approaching this road trip dramedy because you’ll want to ensure your seat belt is securely fastened and you have enough gas in your tank before you begin. I say that not to deter you from going on this journey and in no way meaning to spoil anything that happens along the way but to do a solid pulse check. Emotions are at play in this film premiering on Amazon Prime, and feeling your feels is what will happen whether you like it or not. To deny the movie targets your tear ducts when it reaches a critical juncture is forgetting where it began.
“You’re not going to like how this story ends.”
Spoken by Wally (Mia Isaac), the teenage narrator, as the film opens, screenwriter Vera Herbert draws a line in the sand early with this declaration. It’s not easy to walk back the statement or the sentiment contained within, not that anyone makes that effort. Living with her single dad Max (John Cho), and attempting to make it through her formative high school years with her sanity intact, she faces the usual Gen Z problems. Liking a boy (Otis Dhanji, Aquaman) who hasn’t yet figured out how to make love the center of his world is frustrating, and Max won’t give her the driving lessons she needs to feel as independent as her friends.
When Max’s headaches are diagnosed as a tricky brain tumor turned into bone cancer, he faces a dilemma. Undergo a risky surgery with a 20% survival rate or take the time he has left to fit in an express course of life lessons with his daughter, reuniting her with the mother (Jen Van Epps, No Exit) that abandoned them years earlier. A cross-country college reunion provides the perfect excuse to get away. Without Max telling his child of his diagnosis or ultimate intentions, the two set off on a trek that empowers both to reconnect. As they travel, Max teaches his daughter how to drive, and Wally gives Max the time he needs to live life to, well, the max. Of course, they also get sidelined at a nude beach (prepare for an eyeful), a traffic incident, and two very different types of reunions.
Cho has been an actor that started in silly teen comedies such as American Pie and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle before graduating to more sophisticated blockbuster efforts like Star Trek and the update of Total Recall. While the track record hasn’t been all roses (oh boy, was that reboot of The Grudge in 2020 awful!), he does have a knack for turning up in films that are easy to recommend. In 2018’s Searching, he played another dad that didn’t connect with his daughter until it was too late, but in Don’t Make Me Go, he has a significant arc and more than just Isaac off of which to work. I wasn’t sure at first how much we needed Kaya Scodelario (Crawl) as his occasional bedfellow, but the purpose fixes into a point as the trip progresses.
July is set to be a good month for relative newcomer Isaac. First, she has this release, and a few weeks later comes Not Okay, a dark comedy premiering on Hulu I can’t say much about yet. I can say that between both of these movies, Isaac’s star is most definitely going to rise quickly in Hollywood. Wally is a role that requires tricky climbing of emotional peaks, many of which come at unexpected places. Director Hannah Marks (an actress appearing in Daniel Isn’t Real and Banana Split) helps Isaac and Cho navigate these potential hazardous points in Herbert’s script, especially Isaac, who has a lot of vulnerability in the latter half.
I can’t say much more about Don’t Let Me Go without ruining that final stretch. It would be like walking up to Mount Rushmore for the first time and then me jumping up in front of you, holding a gigantic panoramic picture of the famous landmark. My advice is also to steer clear of reviews that are doing just what I described, giving too much away when a lot of its importance hinges on the ending. Do yourself a favor and remember what Wally told you at the beginning, and you shouldn’t be too surprised. Or, like me, you just might be.