In life, it is almost unavoidable to find yourself trapped within some sort of established system. You may wonder why, if you are even ever made aware of it. It’s the way our moms and dads have done it, and their parents before them, and so on and so forth. But like any continuing system, there needs to come a point where it needs to be examined and updated to reflect the progress of society. A Kid Like Jake comes in to disrupt the established system of parenting by forcing us to reflect on the negative effects of forcing children to fit some societal role.
There is an intimate, humble quality to A Kid Like Jake that makes it impossible to completely hate. The well-intentioned nature of the film is enough to win over most cynics, but the sometimes stiff, stage play-like execution may prove to be too much for the average filmgoer. Writer Daniel Pearle turned their stage play into a screenplay, but not everything translated over cinematically. There are more than a few scenes where the interactions and dialogue between characters feel like they each exist separately rather than feeling connected. Watching the film almost feels like sitting through an afterschool special where the genuinely try to cover a topic but have it feel like it can’t exist outside of the bubble it has created for itself.
Pearle develops A Kid Like Jake as an entry point of sorts. This film will be a conversation starter for those that watch it, challenging the notion of gender roles and our culpability in reinforcing them. Jake is gender non-conforming, but we are told more about Jake than we are shown. The problem exists when the film focuses on the powerful effect of labels and society’s reinforcement of gender stereotypes while simultaneously feeling the need to constantly label Jake’s behavior as this or that. The film tries to show us the positive influence that unrestricted, uncorrupted creativity brings to the raising a child, and just how much of a limiting force our passed on prejudices and antiquated views provide.
Director Silas Howard understands the importance of the message as well as the need for it to be delivered in an innocuous, easily digestible package. Everything about A Kid Like Jake plays it safe so that its message can be endeared to the masses. The story exists in a bubble, creating this world for our characters to inhabit, but mostly so that we could look in and feel like we’re watching these connected moment-in-time scenes. At no point are you immersed in their world because it is painfully obvious you are on the outside looking, like a patron at a theater. Everything plays out for your benefit, so instead of a story organically playing out in front of eyes, it’s almost as if every scene was designed to talk directly at you rather than talking to you.
This is very common when it comes to films and television shows that are trying to get a specific message across but have to rely on heavy-handed methods over crafting a story in concert with effective cinematic techniques. The latter, of course, needing much more care in its execution. That is not to say that A Kid Like Jake didn’t use its 92-minute runtime effectively. Howard makes sure that ingrained in every scene there is the film’s message resonating for the audience. Howard doesn’t rely on flashy visuals or over-complicated sequences to muddle the narrative but instead places all the emphasis where it should be by always pushing the film’s message to the forefront. One of the most effective forces in the film comes in the form of the talented cast consisting of Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, Ann Dowd, Priyanka Chopra and Octavia Spencer. Their characters each represent an important part of society, whether they are reinforcing gender roles like Danes and Dowd’s characters, or they are fighting them like Parsons and Spencer’s.
For better or worse, the message rings clear, even if only in an oversimplified way that turns the film into more of an entry into having people question their parenting methods and examine which actions are done out of convenience and which are done for the long-term good of their children. Despite the simple, single-minded focus of A Kid Like Jake, the film proves necessary to start a dialogue for parents new and old. Although this story is drenched in privilege and may seem mostly unrelatable as far as their social representation is concerned, it still succeeds in presenting ideas that are applicable to any parent-child dynamic, and thus deserving of your attention.