Don’t Make Me Go review – mediocre family weepie with a cheap t

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    At the beginning of Amazon’s cutesy father-daughter tale Don’t Make Me Go, a voiceover tell us: “You’re not gonna like the way this story ends, but I think you’re gonna like this story.” Almost two hours later and the prophecy was only half-correct. For the way that the film ends is a genuine text-your-friends-and-spoil-it-for-them-in-caps shocker, for all of the very worst reasons, a cheap, emotionally manipulative head-scratcher of a twist that leaves one with a sour taste in the mouth that lingers. But even before the dramatic left turn, all the way over the cliff and into flames, this ho-hum road trip comedy drama was already hard to like, an unspecific sitcom of eye-rolls and finger-wagging.

    It’s unsurprisingly the work of an ex-This is Us writer, a network soap of shameless string and rug pulls, and perhaps ardent fans might find something here to mope over in that show’s recent absence. But for the rest of us, a film that should be radiating warmth and humanity is in fact surprisingly cold, almost factory-made, a drama about the messiness of family that feels far too tidy. The often under-utilised actor John Cho at least makes the most of a rare lead role, echoing similar single dad energy from 2018’s devilishly entertaining cyber-thriller Searching. In Don’t Make Me Go, there’s nothing as nefarious pulling him and his daughter apart but, ultimately, something equally life-threatening.

    Cho’s Max finds out early on that those headaches he keeps experiencing are in fact the result of a terminal brain tumour, which gives him two unpleasant options. The first is surgery, but with only a 20% chance of survival, and the second is, well, nothing, and facing up to his final year of life. He opts for the latter in order to prepare his 15-year-old daughter Wally (newcomer Mia Isaac) for life without him. But he chooses not to tell her, and instead decides on a road trip both to attend a high school reunion and to track down the mother who abandoned them both years earlier.

    Appearing on The Black List a decade ago, the annual list of the most-liked un-produced scripts in Hollywood and originally titled A Story About My Father, it’s baffling to see why something as generic and listless as this would have survived the long journey to the screen. It feels more like a sample script than a passion project, written to get staffed on something such as This is Us (timing-wise that may very well be what happened), and there is a clinical competency to writer Vera Herbert’s perfunctory dialogue. But it’s less a believable representation of how actual people talk and more of how characters in a show would, a slick but empty back-and-forth lacking in any detail or nuance, every expected beat from a father-daughter dynamic recycled without energy or thought.

    It’s a shame, because Cho and Isaac, also impressive in this month’s social media satire Not Okay, try their very best, as does director Hannah Marks, all bringing their A game to a script that barely deserves their C (although Marks’ decision to use Iggy Pop’s overused The Passenger twice in a road movie deserves an enthused thumbs down). It’s their combined effort that crawls this out of one star territory, although I wavered in the heinous finale as the aforementioned reveal crash-lands into view. I’ll often forgive a deranged and poorly foreshadowed last-act twist in a horror or thriller, the heightened territory allowing for such silliness, but in a grounded film that takes itself as seriously as this, it’s much harder to stomach and impossible to forgive.

    It’s a bizarre act of audience manipulation that only serves to highlight the overall incompetency of the script, relying on something this wild to distinguish itself from the great number of similar family dramas like it. The tears that the film so desperately wants us to find ourselves soaked in never come. Our eyes are far too busy rolling.


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