Don’t Make Me Go

Tribeca Festival Spotlight Narrative Section

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Hannah Marks

Writer: Vera Herbert

Cast: John Cho, Mia Isaac, Mitchell Hope, Jemaine Clement, Stefania LaVie Owen, Kaya Scodelario

Screened at: Village East Cinema, NYC, 4/14/22

Opens: June 13th, 2022

Every parent-child relationship looks a little different, and there are many reasons for that. Individual personalities affect the way that people relate to each other, but there are also the circumstances that shape them, like the presence of another parent – or the reason for their absence – or the age at which a child was born, and the general support system that they have. Don’t Make Me Go is a heartwarming look at the way one father and daughter are with each other and the life-changing trip they embark on together.

Max (John Cho) does everything to make sure his daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) is happy, but she doesn’t always make it easy. When he finds out that he has a terminal illness that can only be cured with a dangerous procedure that might kill him anyway, Max becomes determined to introduce Wally to the mother who abandoned her shortly after birth. As the two set out by car from Los Angeles to New Orleans under the guise of attending his college reunion, Wally starts to see a new side of her father which isn’t at all what she’s come to know.

Don’t Make Me Go comes from director Hannah Marks, who debuted her previous film, Mark, Mary, and Some Other People, at Tribeca last year. Pairing Marks with Vera Herbert, a writer known for her work on This Is Us, makes for an exceptionally enjoyable trip, one that is genuinely funny and full of heart. This is hardly the first story of a single dad willing to do anything for his daughter, yet it feels like an entirely new take exploring these ideas for the first time, which is no small feat.

Cho turns in an endearing performance as Max, someone desperate to have his daughter think he is cool who has long since abandoned any sincere interests of his own because he wants to put her interests above his. It’s great to see that the character is layered, involved in his own healthy romantic relationship that he has hidden from his daughter and thinks she isn’t aware exists. Cho never overplays the part, ensuring that Max is all about self-sacrificing and putting on a brave front, even if that’s not what Wally most needs.

The true star of this film is Isaac, who knows exactly how to play a teenager who is self-assured enough to think that her father could be an embarrassment but also is far from the most popular girl in school. She brings a radiance to Wally that carries the entire film, playing her as a rule-follower who still wants to shirk her father’s advice simply because he’s the one who’s giving it to her, and who is surprisingly susceptible to bad decisions and, humorously given the nature of this cross-country adventure, very distracted driving.

There are elements of Don’t Make Me Go which are positively reminiscent of The Short History of the Long Road and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, tapping into small cinematic choices that make this character-driven film even more enticing. There is a playfulness to the way in which it is edited, and the infusion of drama into the more prominent comedy is subtle and extremely effective. This is a movie that both feels good and deals with important issues like mortality and fractured relationships that impact others, and none of its more serious themes feel like they’re being forced on audiences or will take them out of the experience. Cho and Isaac are marvelous together onscreen, and with the guiding hand of Marks and the terrific words from Herbert, they are able to guide a film that demands to be seen and is difficult to forget.

109 minutes

Story – A-

Acting – A-

Technical – B+

Overall – A-

A scene from director Hannah Marks’ drama, ‘Don’t Make Me Go.’

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