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A Kid Like Jake is an earnestly intended, seriously acted film, painful in various intentional and unintentional ways. It is by the TV veteran Silas Howard, who was the first trans director of the show Transparent, and adapted by Daniel Pearle from his own award-winning stage play. But it’s a film that strenuously avoids its own potential for satire or humour, averting its gaze from the #firstworldproblems issue. Claire Danes and Jim Parsons play Alex and Greg, a well-to-do New York couple: she’s a former lawyer turned stay-at-home mom and he’s a therapist. They have a bright, imaginative four-year-old, Jake (Leo James Davis), and like many parents in their milieu, they have allowed themselves to get obsessed with getting Jake into an exclusive private pre-school.
This aspiration may sound ridiculous and snobbish but the film asks you to take it – and Alex and Greg – seriously at some level. The couple’s teacher friend Judy (Octavia Spencer) has noted Jake’s love of Disney heroines and dressing up in fairy gowns, and suggests to Alex that on the application form she should really emphasise Jake’s “gender-expansive play” because top-ranking schools are very concerned with diversity. And Alex, however keen she is to get into these elite institutions, has to suppress her conflicted emotions.
It would be interesting to see what Neil LaBute or David Mamet would do with such an idea, or if they might present a debate about whether four is too early to be thinking about diversity in these terms. But debate in that sense is resolutely absent here. Oddly, there are hardly any scenes in which the parents interact with Jake (he is offstage in the play) and no one actually says the words “gay” or “trans” (although there is one abusive insult); it’s as if the drama is concerned to mimic the walking-on-eggshells diplomacy of the teaching professionals who have to engage with Alex and Greg. Danes gives it her very considerable best, but there is something weirdly inhibited about this movie.
Source: The Guardian
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