No matter who you are or what your social status may be, at some point in your life, you’re bound to feel alienated. Something seeps into one’s mind, saying, “This isn’t what everybody else is like.” Most people break out of it, but there are some unfortunate severe cases where a person simply can’t come to terms with everyone else. Director Menno Meyjes’ “Martian Child” explores the world of one such child and his adoptive father as they struggle to make it work.
David Gordon (John Cusack) is a widowed science-fiction writer with a tough past. As a child, he was picked on constantly and considered an outsider. He helps pass the time mourning his wife with his wife’s friend, Harlee (Amanda Peet). But he gets the idea to adopt a child, something his sister Liz (Joan Cusack) desperately tries to talk him out of. David meets Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a young boy convinced he is from Mars. He goes so far as to wear sunscreen and sunglasses to avoid the sun and even a weight belt so Earth’s gravity doesn’t pull him away. Nobody believes him, but when odd events start to happen, they question if he’s telling the truth. With a looming novel deadline and social workers breathing down his neck, David has a hard time making things work out with an otherworldly Dennis.
What “Martian Child” is able to do so well is tell a wonderfully terrific yet saddening story while also making a connection with the outsider within. The connection between Cusack and Coleman is astonishing. It is incredibly clear that these two worked well together throughout the filming process.
Going beyond that is the brother/sister connection betweens the Cusacks. Having worked with each other in eight previous projects, it is somewhat clear cut that they should have each other in these roles. It works well the whole way through. Peet’s character becomes a love interest for David, and it builds up nicely, but as soon as it hits a high point, it drops straight down and isn’t touched upon again.
The film moves along relatively slowly but this is not a bad thing; it isn’t supposed to be some sort of fun ride. It will undoubtedly make you happy, but moments later it could do something to break your heart. You can really get a feel for the characters (namely, David and Dennis). Both actors are phenomenal, despite Coleman having nearly no acting experience.
There is simply not enough room here to describe everything that makes “Martian Child” so great, but going on could ruin the experience of seeing it. It has a small fantastical element at its heart, but the overall love story between a father and his adoptive son is too powerful to disregard. Amongst a sea of sub-par films out right now, this is a great one to see.