I have to say, I was impressed by the initial trailers for this film. The montage of scenes from the movie was set against the backdrop of “Mr. Blue Sky,” recorded by one of my favorite all time bands, Electric Light Orchestra. That alone impressed me enough to want to see the movie, and though I don’t know why, I never did see it in theaters. In fact, I did several things backwards with this movie. I even interviewed child-star and co-actor Bobby Coleman prior to seeing the movie. In many ways, that was a good thing. It gave me insight into Bobby and helped drive home the abilities of this young man (who was only 7-years-old at the time of filming).
One thing about a movie that depends on the ability and talent of a child is that if all things (including, script, chemistry between actors, the ability of the director to work with the child, and a multitude of other things) don’t work together, then the whole movie just won’t work. This is especially true of a movie that is theme- and drama-driven as opposed to comedy-driven. While Martian Child has its moments of comedy, make no mistake about it: there are serious themes addressed, full-force and head-on.
The chemistry and work between John Cusack and Bobby Coleman is, in short, wonderful and real. It is in part due to the way the movie was filmed—in the order of the story. Cusack and Coleman agreed that they wouldn’t spend much time together during the initial part of the filming, so their relationship developed naturally as they continued filming. For a movie that deals with subject matter as serious as single-parent adoption, this was crucial. As the two actors were confused by such things as age, personality and so forth, they began to develop the relationship, learning to love each other on and off the screen by the completion of the film. In this film, life imitates the art. The relationship and ability to love not only occurs in real life, but it happens in part because it occurs on screen.
To be blunt, I greatly admire the abilities of John Cusack, one of my favorite versatile actors in Hollywood today. That said, the pairing of Cusack and Coleman may be one of the best pairings in all of 2007. That says something not just about the ability of Cusack, it says myriads about the ability of young actor, Bobby Coleman. While children are often backdrops in a movie and there for nothing more than comedic moments, Coleman is a legitimate, bona fide actor who fills the screen with his ability.
Martian Child starts off with David (John Cusack) dealing with the death of his wife from two years earlier. In the present, he contemplates the adoption of a small boy. This is not just any boy, but a child known as a “special needs child.” It is while visiting a child agency that David meets Dennis (Bobby Coleman). Dennis spends most of his time in a box, is considered weird; and the kicker is, he thinks he is from Mars. Since David is a science-fiction writer who writes about fantasy and space, the agency’s childcare worker, Sophie (Sophie Okonedo), thinks a boy who believes he is from Mars may be a good match for David. Dennis appeals to David, who had his own similar issues growing up.
Martian Child is about the development of love between a father and a son through the process of adoption. The question of whether Dennis is really from Mars or not is only background that adds to the story. It keeps the viewer’s interest and we are always left to think that he may very well be from Mars. While this is important to the storyline, it is not nearly as important as showing the struggles and the ways a family must adapt during the process of adoption.
As an adoptive parent, I truly appreciate the subject matter of Martian Child. I appreciate it because, no matter how old the child is when you adopt, every adoptive parent struggles to find ways to let children believe and know they really are a part of the family. David experiences these struggles, as well as the battles with relatives who also need to adjust. While the difficulties of adoption are shown, so are the benefits and successes. The importance of loving another person, unconditionally, to the point of becoming family is illustrated throughout the film. We are shown (as successfully as anything portrayed on screen in recent years) the relevance and importance of a father loving his son, dealing with the issues of single parenting, schooling, and ultimately having that child receive love. While the family may be unconventional, it is still a family. The love is real, and the results are life-changing.
These aren’t just social issues, they are spiritual issues that every human being must face, as we are all a part of a family. For people who talk about being family with those whom they have something in common with (i.e., faith), the film has even more important things to say regarding unconditional love and allowing people to be who they were created to be. Bobby Coleman, in his portrayal of young Dennis, shows this in such wonderful ways. There is one particular scene where David realizes the ability of Dennis to give back in what I call the “Dance Scene,” a scene that will become evident when you see the movie. It is often in shared experiences, no matter how weird and how different, that we learn the most about each other and things like love. I have seen this movie three times, and each time, it becomes more emotional. I see the brilliance of the direction provided by Menno Meyjes in scenes like this, where we are shown an obvious exchange and attempt by the characters to give in to each other, to make a sacrifice, to take a step of faith, to be open, and above all, to love.
I have to admit, while there were some drawbacks in the editing of this movie, I still loved it. I loved it for the music, the story, the acting, the ensemble cast, and more importantly, the way it spoke to me as a viewer. It is a shame this movie didn’t do better at the box office. It will be an even greater shame if it doesn’t do better as a DVD purchase. That’s right, a DVD purchase. As mentioned before, I am careful about movies I buy, and I wish I had seen this one in the theater. I will watch it over and over again.
But this DVD also has something else I appreciate in a DVD, great special features. The special features range from a film commentary to documentaries dealing with the work of Bobby Coleman and the real Martian Child (as written about by original award-winning story author, David Gerrold). Gerrold is known for writing numerous science fiction and fantasy stories, and Martian Child is the story based largely on the adoption of his own son. There is another wonderful background and backdrop piece to the DVD. There is even an Easter Egg or two for the viewer to search for. I have seldom seen principals say the kinds of things they said about this movie in the DVD Special Features. They talk about how they hope the movie will inspire parents to be better parents, and how they hope it educates people about the adoption process. It even includes David Gerrold explaining his hope that qualified families will be inspired to consider and become a part of the adoption process. It is a wonderful experience knowing that one can love a movie that has a higher ambition than just entertainment and movie ticket sales.
While there are those that question the honest intentions of certain filmmakers, Martian Child goes so far as to show, without question, that filmmakers, actors, writers, and others involved in the process oftentimes do have good intentions to do good things. While those intentions may not provide a path to eternal bliss, they do help make a better world. In that aspect, I am a better person because I took the time to watch this movie that deals with a worthy topic. I have this funny feeling, a feeling that must be from the eternal realms of Heaven, that you will not only have a good time watching this movie, but you will also be a better person if you apply the themes addressed.
For all of the above and the number of planets in our solar system, on a scale of 1 – 10, I give an enthusiastic 9.
Click Here to Hear My Interview with Bobby Coleman, Co Star of Martian Child
To see the trailer for Martian Child just click on the video below, if the video don't appear, just click on the link provided:
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