Road trip movies certainly aren’t new but some have come to define cinema and so it takes something special to stand out from a crowded marketplace. Don’t Make Me Go, the latest from Actor/Director Hannah Marks is a Road Trip movie with a difference, it stars John Cho as Max Park, a single dad who discovers he has a terminal disease and intends to make the most of the time he has left with his daughter Wally, played by Mia Isaac, with whom he has a fractious relationship.
The bulk of the film is dedicated to the pair’s journey across the States to his college reunion, making stops along the way to visit Casinos, dance and bond in both bizarre and heartwarming fashion. As the film unwinds we get to know why Max is perhaps so uptight and protective with his ex-wife Nicole running off with a friend and making no effort to make contact with Wally. We get a sense that Max really wants whats best for Wally and that he is as keen as possible to form a solid relationship with the time he has left.
Wally is more outgoing and free spirited than Max and the dynamic between the two could easily falter or become irritable but the chemistry between the leads is what anchors the film even when it feels a bit generic elsewhere. Cho is probably best known as a comedic actor and here shows that he is every inch a dramatic actor. Isaac more than holds her own and is sure to be one to watch. While the pair are very much the film’s heart and soul, there is an impressive supporting cast including Flight of The Conchord’s Jermaine Clement and Kaya Scodelario who has a short yet impactful role as Max’s new love Annie and who could perhaps have done with some more screen time although ultimately the story is very much about Max and Wally.
For a film with quite a heavy subject matter as its theme Marks is able to balance the more weighty moments with moments of humour and fun, an accidental visit to a nude beach at a time of tension, is a perfect way to offset some of the tension and the film is peppered with light touches like this to show a capable director honing her craft. The film could quite easily sag under the weight of its subject matter but manages to remain riveting and surprisingly uplifting viewing. While its ending may prove an abrupt left turn, the work to that point makes it mostly worthwhile and earned.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the film is that it was shot on location in New Zealand, due to Covid, every shot feels exactly like where it is supposed to be, filling in for locations in Florida, California and Texas. Much like the Power of The Dog this shows the power of the New Zealand landscape and that it is more than a fine stand in for the US when required.
In addition to the performances a shoutout must go to the eclectic soundtrack which features British Indie sensations Wet Leg along with more established acts like New Order and Iggy Pop, the soundtrack feels like it plays a key part in the narrative especially the use of Iggy’s The Passenger and there is a fun sequence set to New Order’s iconic dance smash Blue Monday.
If not completely earth shattering, Don’t Make Me Go is a heartwarming tale of perseverance, familial ties and the human spirit. It has some fine central performances managing to bring nuance and humanity to a difficult and very personal subject matter and make this a fun and moving film along the way. This is one worth checking out on Amazon that may perhaps have flown under people’s radar but acts as a fine vehicle for its up and coming director and lead actors.
The film premiered at the recent Tribeca Festival and has a full release on the 15th July on Amazon.