The comic drama "Martian Child" stars John Cusack as a recently widowed science fiction writer who adopts a young boy that claims to be from Mars. But the new father ignores some sage advice about the perils of parenthood from his sister and gets more than he bargained for when a series of strange occurences lead him to believe the child's claim may be true. Based on an award-winning short story by sci-fi luminary David Gerrold, "Martian Child" is directed by Menno Meyjes and co-stars Amanda Peet and Joan Cusack. (from MovieWeb.com)
Since it pretty much came and went in the theaters faster than if they'd made another Garfield sequel, I never got around to seeing Martian Child on the big screen. I've regularly enjoyed John Cusack's work when I've seen his films, so I was a little disappointed to originally have missed this one. However, with its February '08 DVD release, I was given a second chance to see it - and I'm glad I did.
Martian Child plays out a bit like K-Pax with the "is he or isn't he?" premise of an eccentric, troubled character claiming to be from another planet. While the latter film was a dark and rather disturbing psychological sci-fi mystery of sorts, this film is much more about love and loss and the importance of family. The sentimental nature of the story and acting has been widely knocked by critics and moviegoers, but what Martian Child thrives on is heart. Cusack plays David Gordon, a successful sci-fi novelist and widower who's struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. Delightfully, John's real-life sister Joan Cusack plays his sister in this movie as well, once again teaming the siblings up on screen. While they don't always play brother and sister when on screen together, their natural chemistry brought an added sincerity to their characters' relationship. Also, Joan just has a comedic charm that is a wonderful compliment to John's often dry comedic delivery. While I love John Cusack's mannerisms and his signature shtick that he often brings to his characters, he can't help but sort of play a similar character in most of his movies. This is great for any fan of his, but ultimately it can feel like he doesn't know how not to be himself in his roles. Here, however, this really isn't a problem because of the dramatic nature of the story. If Cusack wasn't being his quirky, charming self, trying to play the role more serious, Martian Child would be too flat and dull to survive.
Dennis, aka the "Martian Child," is a troubled, quiet orphan who David eventually adopts due to being completely fascinated by Dennis' odd behavior, as well as his claims from being from Mars. Dennis puts up a convincing front, maintaining this outward belief, and he even begins to have David convinced that he might truly be from another world. But the story is more about David and Dennis' relationship. Being that trying to fit into the world and society can be a difficult and intimidating task for a child, it's not an uncommon theme - especially for Christians. Martian Child ends up being a wholly positive film that unashamedly tugs at the viewer's heartstrings and drives home the point that it's more than OK to be who you are and be yourself. Luckily, the film does it in a natural way that is simultaneously pro-family. It also shows adoption in a wonderful light as well. It's a testament, especially being that it's inspired by a true story, to loving the seemingly unlovable or "different" and reaching out to show love for another. There are times, as David shows patient love and mercy to Dennis through his struggles to feel like he belongs, that David shows a kind of unconditional love that made me think of how God might feel about us in times when we mess up of feel like we've screwed up beyond forgiveness. Aside from a climactic moment that I won't spoil here, a scene where Dennis thinks David doesn't love him anymore because he accidentally broke something of his, finds David replying, "There's nothing you can do that would change the way I feel about you." And I think that's a pretty good picture of God's love for His children.
The content in Martian Child is quite family friendly. Apparently there was some mild language and blasphemy in the theatrical version that seems to be missing from the DVD version (but I also could have missed it?), therefore there's really no profanity at all here. As David and Harlee seem to be growing more attracted to each other, there's a brief scene where they passionately kiss but end it and part ways quickly. This part of the story - their relationship as friends and potentially more is kind of teased with a bit, only allowing viewers to assume how it will develop. I understand why it was placed on the backburner for the David / Dennis storyline, but I also appreciated how it was kept mostly innocent between the two of them. Finally, violence is next to nothing with the only bit being a candid scene where David encourages Dennis to break his dishes and a few random knick-knacks to reassure him that he is worth more than the material. While it's not a bright thing to encourage a child to do, it makes for a sweet ice-breaking scene for the two of them.
For DVD features, there's a good twenty or so minutes of deleted scenes, mostly just filling in more of the story. Most of them are disposable, but there's a pretty heart-wrenching one I'm glad they left out where David calmly reprimands Dennis for sorting trash on his nice rug, who then disappears, only to be found in a box standing out with the trash (coincidentally just as the trashmen come, too). There is also a featurette where the original author of the short story is interviewed who had adopted the original "martian child," and we also hear the now-grown-up boy speak about his experiences with being adopted. Finally, the DVD picture is a crisp, clear, brilliant transfer, and I was very impressed with how it looked. We watched No Reservations on DVD after this one and the picture for that film was surprisingly fuzzy and pixelated at times. They definitely did a great job on the picture for Martian Child.
I thoroughly enjoyed Martian Child, regardless of its sentimental and somewhat overly sweet storyline. There's nothing wrong with a family film that promotes adoption, families, and loving others, even if it's a bit sugarcoated. All of the characters in the film are likeable and the film probably wouldn't be half as enjoyable as it is without both Cusacks and the support from reliable actors like Oliver Platt and Amanda Peet. It's a tear-jerker for sure, but it offers a positive message that families can embrace.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/18/08)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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