When Max Park (John Cho) is diagnosed with a brain tumour, his oncologist gives him two options. He can have surgery to remove it, but the chances of making a full recovery are a paltry 20 per cent, or he can do nothing and be dead within a year. Because Max is a lone parent with a teenage daughter who’s beginning to contemplate major life choices – college, travel, boyfriends – Max decides it’s more responsible to decline the operation. At least a year gives him time to prepare 15-year-old Wally (Mia Isaac) for the rest of her life without him.
To begin with, Max can’t face telling Wally about his terminal diagnosis, but he starts stage-managing her future straight away. Figuring that now is the time for his daughter to reunite with her mother, who walked out on them when Wally was a baby, he plans an epic road trip from their South California home to New Orleans. He tells Wally that he wants her to accompany him to a college reunion – a weird idea, as she points out – but his ulterior motive is to put mother and daughter in the same room. He also hopes the long cross-country drive will give them plenty of father-daughter bonding time: something that’s now a finite resource.
For much of its runtime, Don’t Make Me Go hits its familiar beats with a steady hand. Wally begins to rebel against her strait-laced dad, even sneaking out of their motel room one night to party with the locals in a Texan backwater. Max tries a bit too hard to make their road trip meaningful but gradually reveals he’s not so square after all. Back in the day, he was an aspiring rock star who had the talent, but not the courage, to make it big. Director Hannah Marks, who co-wrote and starred in the excellent Gen Z romcom Banana Split, brings a low-key charm to even the film’s cheesiest moments. As soon as Max and Wally discover a shared love of Iggy Pop‘s ‘The Passenger’, you just know he’s going to end up singing it at some point.
Sadly, Marks’ self-restrained approach is undone by a clumsy final act that arrives in a moment of narrative whiplash. It’s perhaps no coincidence that screenwriter Vera Herbert has previously written nine episodes of This Is Us, a schmaltzy US drama series that is rarely subtle at going for the emotional jugular. For this reason, Don’t Make Me Go is a strange beast: a film that feels a little predictable until it snaps and stretches credulity to the limit. Thankfully, Cho and Isaac’s affecting performances are a lot more nuanced than the writing.
It also benefits from a strong supporting cast. Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement has a game cameo as the clueless douchebag Wally’s mum ran off with. Skins‘ Kaya Scodelario adds depth to Annie, the emotionally unavailable woman Max is sleeping with. So, Don’t Make Me Go probably has enough to justify the journey time; just brace yourself for a pretty bumpy finish.
- Director: Hannah Marks
- Starring: John Cho, Mia Isaac, Jemaine Clement
- Release date: July 15 (Prime Video)