With Claire Danes and Jim Parsons television shows both potentially coming to an end next year people might wonder what’s next for these two stars of Homeland and The Big Bang Theory, respectively. Intriguingly with A Kid Like Jake the two have paired up as married couple Alex (Danes) and Greg (Parsons) Wheeler in a film that challenges social norms.
A Kid Like Jake begins with the Wheelers having difficulty in finding a school for their son. Naturally, like any parents, they want what is the best for their child and they believe private education would be best for Jake (Leo James Davis). Unfortunately, Greg and Alex do not readily have the funds. This means they are faced with filling in applications for financial aid as well as admissions forms for the schools themselves. Jake enjoys dressing up and role playing as Disney princesses and when Alex is composing the applications she is anxious that being explicit about Jake’s personality might lead to him being declined despite him being particularly bright. This initial process reveals a larger concern for the Wheelers and their son regarding his gender-expansive personality and whether this is a phase or his identity.
At around ninety minutes long, the film is typically the sort of running time audiences would expect from an indie film; however, the first third of the time is spent slowly establishing the plot and is filmed too formally with standard camera angles and edited into short exclusive takes. Director Silas Howard seems to have gone for simplicity but I personally would have liked to see conventions of the genre challenged more. However, this creative choice thrives more in the following hour as the film does generate intrigue and the audience begins to focus more on the plot. Even though Jake’s gender nonconformity is the focus with Greg even seen at one point looking on the internet at a book posing the timeless question of nature v. nurture. . Parenting is explored not only by the married protagonists but by Alex’s mum too, Catherine (Ann Dowd) as she always seems to highlight her son’s achievements which ultimately makes Alex feel belittled. How we also deal with situations emotionally is questioned with Alex appearing to wear her emotions on her sleeve and Greg, who is a psychiatrist being described by one of his patients as Switzerland because he doesn’t like taking sides and deals with things tactfully. The audience is left to make their own decisions on what is the best approach in all of these matters and basically whether we should obey the conventions set in society.
Parsons portrayal of Greg may seem a little contrived and unconvincing as a father at first but his performance does become very credible as does Danes and both subtly display what they are feeling well without ever being melodramatic. The confrontations they have look authentic and appear very natural as if a genuine married couple had been filmed. This is particularly the case in one scene when they go out to dinner and receive a call from Catherine about Jake behaving badly and as a result, Jake’s gender being challenged. This can be also attributed to Daniel Pearle’s writing, who has adapted the script from his own stage play of the same name and the dialogue he has written is conceivable.
Though ambiguity is at the heart of A Kid Like Jake, the film itself skews a little too much to vagueness in the issues explored, perhaps due to their complexity. A Kid Like Jake could have been more assured with what statement it makes in its understated climax. However, what is challenged and questioned within the film is timely and A Kid Like Jake should be commended as being a rare family film that addresses these themes.