A BOY CALLED PO
Freestyle Digital Media
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: John Asher
Written by: Colin Goldman from his story
Cast: Christopher Gorham, Julian Feder, Kaitlin Doubleday, Andrew Bowen, Sean Gunn, Caitlin Carmichael
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/10/17
Opens: September 1, 2017
John Asher is known for a wealth of TV appearances as an actor and has directed “Theo Von: No Offense” featuring Von in a comedy about singular events in his life such as his meeting with Brad Pitt. When he was 21, Asher, whose father was the original director for “I Love Lucy,” directed “Kounterfeit,” about an ex-criminal drawn into the business of making money–literally. This time, with “A Boy Called Po,” he focuses on a ten-year-old whose neurological condition is exacerbated by the death of his mother. The title boy played by Julian Feder in a breakthrough performance frustrates his dad, David Wilson (Christopher Gorham), who has a difficult time keeping his job as an aeronautic engineer when he is regularly called at the office to take charge of his son for a myriad of incidents caused in part by the boy’s inability to communicate with his peers.
Po reflects the condition of the one person in 68 throughout the United States who have been diagnosed with autism, a neurological blip in development that causes those suffering from the condition to be less able to connect with people, to communicate with them, to succeed in social situations. The condition frustrates key people with whom he shares space, including the school principal and a group of kids who bully him and call him “freak.”
Asher’s film, based on Colin Goldman’s story and screenplay, finds David as a single parent taking care of Po. He loves Po and is frustrated by his inability to hug his son. Po obviously loves his dad, but pushes him away whenever David tries to touch him. Since autistic people are wont to display repetitive activities, Po regularly says “Don’t be afraid,” which mystifies David, though when the loose ends are tied by the conclusion, David realizes what he means. As for Po’s regularly asking “Where’s Mommy,” David ultimately discovers that by telling his son the truth, he has opened the lad up for better communication. Po occasionally goes to a happy hour by immersing himself in visions, such as his meeting with a pirate in a coastal area, the sort of thing that non-autistic people do only in their dreams.
Director Asher follows Po and David through the mall, in the school, in a center for autistic youngsters, and also in private therapy lessons with Amy (Kailing Doubleday), who energetically plays with the boy especially on a swing, which for some reason is not simply fun but a way to work through the disability. Like some autistic kids, Po is a savant in math, covering his bedroom chalkboard with such formulas as the binomial theorem. He has been able to read since the age of three, currently most interested in the Wall Street Journal—a feature that will have dramatic payback in the conclusion.
The chemistry between Po and David would be called excellent, but of course if that were true early on, there would be no movie. How he develops a way to express his love for his dad is part of the film’s theme. Julian Feder, whose personal publicist should get on the ball by releasing a Wikipedia article, or at least a biographical sketch on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) that would at least cite his age. It’s a splendid breakthrough for young Feder in a three-hanky movie that might be criticized by some journalists for being too sweet and sentimental, but Hallmark style movies work for me and probably will for you as well.
The movie features original music by Burt Bacharach in addition to the composer’s best-known song arrangement, “Close to You,” which became a hit in 1970 when sung by the Carpenters. Cinematographer Stephen Douglas Smith captures the beauty of Po’s visions.
Rated PG. 95 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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