Friday, November 9, 2007

Martian Child

In this week's big movie, Martian Child - a fictionalized account of real events written by sci-fi author David Gerrold - John Cusack plays a sci-fi author named David (hmmm....) who, two years after the death of his wife, finally decides to go through with adopting a child as he and his late wife had planned. But he doesn't exactly ease himself into single parenting. He picks a boy so deeply troubled that he thinks he is from Mars - a delusion so powerful that at times, Cusack is tempted to believe it himself.

Young Dennis (played by Bobby Coleman) is a strange kid, and no mistake. Loathing sunlight, he only emerges from the shelter of a cardboard box when Cusack gives him SPF-40 sunscreen and a pair of RayBans. He wears a weight belt fashioned from D-sized batteries and duct tape because he is afraid the earth's gravity will not hold him down. He obsessively shoots Polaroids to document the way humans live, so when his mission is completed and he returns to Mars, he can explain everything. He talks to animals, tastes colors, rattles off sentences in an unknown language, and can make wishes that come true. And he's a bit of a kleptomaniac, too. So it's never 100% clear whether Cusack should be concerned about the disintegrator-ray thing the boy does with his fingers. It helps that Dennis has an otherworldly look and sound about him.

It's a quirky and touching movie, co-starring Amanda Peet, Richard Schiff, Anjelica Huston, Sophie Okonedo, and - in a daring bit of stunt casting - Joan Cusack as the sister of John Cusack's character! I could give away loads more than I have already done, but the one bit that really got to me was where the little boy finally reached out to hold Cusack's hand, but at just that moment Cusack stuck his hand in his coat pocket. It wasn't an intentional slight - just a missed opportunity that could serve as an emblem for so many tragic failures of communication between people who care about each other. But if you want to know whether the main burden of the movie is tragic or uplifting - or whether the spaceship finally does come for the kid - you'll have to check out Martian Child for yourself.

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