Martian Child


John Cusack as David Gordon
Bobby Coleman as Dennis
Amanda Peet as Harlee
Sophie Okonedo as Sophie
Joan Cusack as Liz
Oliver Platt as Jeff
Bud as Somewhere / Flomar
Richard Schiff as Lefkowitz
Taya Calicetto as Esther
David Kaye as Andy
Braxton Bonneville as Nicholas
Samuel Charles as Jonas
Zak Ludwig as Young David

Directed by Menno Meyjes

David Gordon (John Cusack) is a former child misfit whose adult life has been marked by both success and tragedy. A successful science fiction novelist, he is also recovering from the loss of his wife two years ago. While visiting her graveside, David recalls his wife’s desire to adopt a child and starts to consider the possibility of fulfilling her mission.

While still unsure if he wants to adopt, David visits a neighborhood adoption center, where he meets a troubled little boy named Dennis (Bobby Coleman), who spends all of his time inside of a cardbox box. See, Dennis also believes that he is from Mars, and it is apparently this mutual interest in the intergalactic that inspires David to take on the child who, we’re told, has been both abused and abandoned by his parents. Dennis, in his quest to retreat into the safety of his imagination, also wears dark sunglasses and speaks in a secret language. These clichéd representations of a childhood response to abuse are nothing short of relentless and illustrate the film’s biggest problem – a complete lack of subtlety that afflicts nearly every element of this film.

The fault for this flawed and overly sentimental film certainly does not lie with the actors (with one unfortunate exception, to be discussed later). John Cusack is as appealing as ever, and he does his best with the material provided him. When David brings Dennis home for the first time, he lingers at his new child’s bedroom door, and the terror in his face makes it clear that he is only just realizing what he has got himself into. It’s one of the rare times in the film when the actors are given the space to flesh out a moment without having to recite excessive dialogue to explain their every emotion.

As a first-time parent, David has a support network that includes his sister (played by Joan Cusack), the adoption worker (Sophie Okenedo), his agent (Oliver Platt) and a friend of his ex-wife (Amanda Peet), who rather creepily becomes a love interest in one of two pointless subplots (the other involves David’s book deal and his writer’s block). It’s an impressive cast of talented and accomplished actors who all turn in good performances in underdeveloped roles.

The only real casting problem is with young Dennis, played by Bobby Coleman. Perhaps to make up for not being able to emote with his eyes, the young actor pouts and puckers constantly, which is only half as annoying as his voice, which has two modes – whimpering and hysterical. Throughout the film, Coleman overacts to the point of unwatchability.

The movie also suffers from the lack of a consistent tone – it’s not clear if it’s meant to be a serious drama for adults, or a quirky fantasy film for a younger audience. In one scene, we are introduced to the possibility that Dennis may actually possess superhuman powers, only to find this evidence completely ignored in the rest of the film. One thing that is very clear is that the film desperately wants to move us to tears, and it will spare no device to tug at our heartstrings – that includes adorable, sympathetic dogs, a bombastic film score, cheesy dialogue, and lots of onscreen tears. However, the more the film piles on the maudlin emotion, the less we care. When at one point Dennis tells his father that, as a Martian, his mission on earth is over, the audience could certainly sympathize with his desire to jump ship.