From Martian to Earthling
Like many moviegoers, I missed Martian Child during its theatrical release last year. This little gem simply slipped through the cracks. Thank heavens Martian Child will be available on DVD beginning February 12, 2008! It’s a beautiful and heartfelt exploration of the ups and downs involved when adopting a child, in this case one who thinks he’s from another planet. John Cusack and Bobby Coleman portray the would-be father and son, respectively. Both actors deliver marvelous performances in a film written and directed so well I almost feel unworthy to critique it. But, hey, that’s my job -- so here goes.
When David (Cusack), a recently widowed sci-fi writer, adopts a “hard-to-place” little boy, he has no idea what an immense challenge he’s undertaking. Yes, he knows the 7-year-old child doesn’t fit in with others. After all, his first meeting with the fragile youngster takes place while peering into a box where the boy spends most of his time trying to hide from the sun. David’s sister (Joan Cusack) warns him about the troubles ahead as do the social workers assigned to Dennis’ case. But there’s something about this youngster that touches David’s heart. After the adoption goes through, the unusual relationship between David and Dennis becomes somewhat bizarre but never boring for viewers.
Much of the charm in this movie can be credited to Cusack’s intelligent and sensitive portrayal of a man trying to make his adopted son feel secure and accepted. Naturally, some things strain his character’s patience to the max, but he’s never condescending or flippant. One of my favorite interaction scenes shows David and Dennis dealing passive aggressively with a grilled cheese sandwich. “It’s an American classic,” David declares as he slides the plate close to Dennis. “I eat Lucky Charms,” insists Dennis, inching the plate a tiny bit closer to David. Subtlety reigns here as well as in an amusing robotic dance these two perform together. Both scenes are a joy to watch! In contrast, an overly exuberant dish-breaking/food fight sequence goes on too long. That’s my only complaint about this otherwise perfect film.
Cusack (Must Love Dogs) demonstrates his considerable acting skill here, which is no surprise, and Coleman (Friends with Money) shows impressive star potential. He endows Dennis with a delicate balance of stoicism and vulnerability that’s just right for the strange character he plays. To find out more about Coleman, be sure to watch the DVD bonus featurette, “Handle with Care: Working with The Martian Child, but NOT before you see the movie itself. This talented child actor seems to belong in show business, and I tend to agree with director Menno Menyes (Max), who calls the lad “a genius.”
I also found “The Real Martian Child” featurette intriguing. It includes enlightening comments from David Gerrold, who wrote the story this movie is based upon, and from his adopted son. Rounding out the DVD special features are deleted scenes and an audio commentary with producers Corey Sienega and David Kirschner as well as writers Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins.
Is Dennis really from Mars? Provocative situations are presented throughout the film hinting it might be true. But that question pales in significance to finding out how David and Dennis grow to love each other. Viewing their journey just might make better parents of us all.
(Released by New Line Home Entertainment and rated “PG” for thematic elements and mild language.)