MARTIAN CHILD

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Overall Impression — A feel-good movie that tries a little too hard, with a seriously misplaced antagonist.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s the main character? — John Cusack’s character of David.

What’s he trying to accomplish? —  He’s trying to adopt a troubled child.

Who’s trying to stop him? — His own personal doubts, his sister, the adoption board (who questions whether David is the right parent for this child,) but ultimately it’s the child himself who is the antagonist of the film.  YIKES!

What happens if he fails? — A very cute, very special kid doesn’t get adopted by the one person on the planet who is right for him.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan — David’s a widower, however it’s been a few years and early in the film we meet Harlee, played  by Amanda Peet, who seems to be interested and available.  I mention this because it weakens anyone’s orphan status to have Amanda Peet interested in them in the first few scenes of a film.  For example, imagine SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.  How heartbroken would you be for Tom Hanks if the film began a year or two after his wife died and Amanda Peet was hanging around him, interested and available?

Wanderer — David decides to adopt a child and tries to figure out how to get through to this over-imaginative kid who thinks he’s from Mars.

Warrior — David becomes increasingly less willing to indulge the kid’s fantasies, while also trying to convince the adoption board and his family (and himself!) that he’s right for the boy.

Martyr — To the film’s detriment, David doesn’t actually have to sacrifice anything at the end.  It’s not like he’s given an either-or choice between the kid and his job, or the kid and some desired relationship.  This is a big weakness of the story.

AND, IN THE END…

David’s lack of sacrifice makes the story less compelling than it could have been.  John Cusack’s  charming, the kid is cute, Amanda Peet is available (have I mentioned that before?), the script is serviceable…yet…ultimately nobody cares.  

MARTIAN CHILD falls apart towards the start of Act Three when the adoption board is placated.  With them out of the way, what’s left to interfere with the adoption?  Surprise!  The boy himself who, in spite of brilliantly pretending in front of the adoption board that he no longer thinks he’s from Mars, still does.  The final confrontation is between David and the boy.  

An inviolate rule of storytelling is that the final confrontation is always the Good Guy vs Bad Guy over Stakes.  So…David fights for the boy against THE BOY?!  Big mistake, and to my way of thinking about story, this is the big failing of the script.

The boy doesn’t seem intent on wanting to be at David’s house until the very, very end of the film which seriously undercuts the audience empathy.  If the boy doesn’t care, why should we?

TRIVIA — MARTIAN CHILD is based on the novel of the same name by David Gerrold which is a semi-autobiographical story of his adoption of his son.  David Gerrod is a science fiction writer perhaps best known for the famous TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES episode of the original STAR TREK series.  Back in my misguided youth when I was a serious Trekker, I wrote to David Gerrold and told him I wanted to be a writer just like him.   He wrote back and was very encouraging to a 16 year  old geek fanboy.  I am in his debt.

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