Los Angeles Times
A middle of the road trip
‘Don’t Make Me Go’ is a father-daughter journey to been there, done that.
A keen student of millennial female filmmakers such as Greta Gerwig and Lena Dunham, actor and filmmaker Hannah Marks similarly imbues her movies with equal dashes of frustration, melancholy and humor; her latest feature, “Don’t Make Me Go,” is no exception.
Somewhat questionably similar to the thematics of her 2018 debut feature film “After Everything” (a romantic comedy that sees two twentysomethings forging a relationship in the midst of a life-changing illness), Marks’ newest focuses on father Max (John Cho) and Gen Z daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) as they head out on a cross-country road trip following Max’s sudden diagnosis of a likely terminal brain tumor.
Important here is Max’s choice not to tell his daughter of his condition or his intention of traveling with her in order to introduce Wally to her mother, who abandoned the family shortly after Wally’s birth.
Marks and screenwriter Vera Herbert utilize this plot point well, focusing on moments of heartbreaking disjunction between Max and Wally, where Max is attempting something akin to fatherly last rites and Wally is annoyed by her dad’s lifelong insistence on rules, restrictions and keeping things from her for her own supposed benefit. He is, in her words, boring and — having raised Wally on his own — plays it safe as a second nature. Even as he faces death, Max just can’t seem to rebuff his stale nature.
Amid all of this, “Don’t Make Me Go” is punctuated by a banal soundtrack. While tonal experimentation is always welcome in ordinary narratives like the one Marks and Bradley have offered up here, these aims are mostly unsuccessfully realized, with music choice and timing taking us out of the film in some of its most substantive moments.
Outside of a wonderfully wistful use of Iggy Pop, it largely remains a gesture toward
a spry youthfulness that — over the course of the movie’s almost two-hour runtime — comes to lack intention and feels more akin to a lackluster Spotify playlist than anything else.
In this vein, “Don’t Make Me Go’s” most obvious misstep is its completely commonplace nature. While its issues with pacing can be overlooked in favor of its welcome sincerity and full heart, everything that Marks’ film offers us is welltrod territory.
It is lovely to sit with the feelings that arise from the dynamic between Cho and Isaac’s characters — surely the purpose, if one is needed, for a movie like this would be exactly that — but it is not enough to rely on that charisma or to simply lead us where we most expect to go. I want more for these characters and the world that they move through.
There is a line between narrative comfort and lack of imagination and, unfortunately, “Don’t Make Me Go” too frequently occupies the latter space.
While every director shouldn’t be tasked with reinventing the cinematic wheel (most every movie has its place and audience), there is something about a movie such as “Don’t Make Me Go” that — even as it pulls on your heartstrings or makes you smile — still leaves you feeling uninspired.