Martian Child ***
Directed by Menno Meyjes
Written by Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins
John Cusack as David
Bobby Coleman as Dennis
Amanda Peet as Harlee
Sophie Okonedo as Sophie
Joan Cusack as Liz
Oliver Platt as Jeff
108 Minutes(Rated PG for thematic elements and mild language. )
In the end, "Martian Child" is so harmless to dislike-a film that really passes without any real damage to the viewer. It never pretends to be something that is isn't, and it has a typically likable and enjoyable John Cusack performance-who might be the "Easiest Actor to Like" in our time. Ironically this is a film that is likely to be squashed at this, or any moment, and perhaps a spring release would be better for it to find an audience, but no-it's being dumped this time of the year-right up against "American Gangster" and the computer animated "Bee Movie." But how often do we get an innocent little family film with great performances, a soulful message, and it's heart in the right place? Not so often at all.
Cusack plays David Green, a widowed science fiction writer who decides to adopt a child after being lonely. His sister Liz-played by real life sister Joan Cusack-tells him how hard parenting is, but David decides to go for it anyway. He finds interest in a kid named Dennis who spends his time in a box, away from the sun. Dennis won't go out during the day, the other kids find him strange, and oh yeah. . . he claims that he is from Mars. David is allowed to have him temporarily, and he tries to become a parent and tries to get Dennis to stop thinking that he is from this distant planet. And it's a hard road, but David gets help-especially from his friend Harlee-played by Amanda Peet. He even finds challenges in child services, who don't think that David is especially the prime candidate for this adoption-an assumption that David chooses to fight.
This is a flawed film, there is no doubt about that. For example, the real life man that the David character is based on-who wrote the novel "Martian Child"-was in fact gay in real life. Of course if the main character is gay, Hollywood doesn't feel like this could be marketed as a family movie, thus Amanda Peet was written is. The Peet character is underdeveloped strongly, and just appears from time to time for Cusack to have someone to flirt with. And she does that well, but in the end, maybe she just wasn't needed at all. Aside from her, Cusack's chemistry with everyone is on target, and the casting director really did put some effort into ensuring that. Cusack has a brother/sister relationship with his actual sister, and his best friend and agent is played by Oliver Platt. Platt and Cusack were terrific together in the extremely under seen 2005 film 'The Ice Harvest," and it was great to see them work together again. Platt has this goofy charm about him that is impossible to resist, and matched with the calm and cool and collective demeanour of Cusack, the pairing is always interesting.
I was impressed with the way the movie ended-which does not go the obvious route of throwing in a powerful court scene. In fact, the custody battle subplot ends and there is still a good twenty five minutes left in the film. I think the real heart lays in Cusack's performance, which is very strong. And the overall messages of all humans sometimes being aliens, and how we are all looking for answers, is relevant, and never too much. A scene where Cusack explains some incredible mysteries of the world to Dennis is directed with style as lights from the street and the city reflect on the windows of the car they are driving in. This is just a harmless little family film-you get what you put into it. It's honestly something that everyone can enjoy-as long as you don't put much expectation into it.