'Don't Make Me Go' review: Road trip cancer drama never finds its path
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
The opening voiceover that begins director Hannah Marks’ cancer drama “Don’t Make Me Go” serves as a rather omniscient warning: “You’re not gonna like the way this story ends, but I think you’re going to like the story.” A curious inclusion that should peak enough interest for anyone giving it a chance, but the endgame teased in this brief stinger can’t prepare you for the actual outcome, which includes a ludicrous bait-and-switch twist ending nobody on planet earth would see coming. A bummer considering “Don’t Make Me Go” features affectionate performances from John Cho and Mia Isaac playing a father/daughter duo taking a spontaneous road trip after dad finds out he’s diagnosed with a near terminal brain tumor.
But the wild third act switcheroo undercuts any goodwill from the first two thirds, which was already skating on very thin, melodramatic ice. In theory, Marks should have struck gold finding two worthy actors who could elevate a premise genetically modified to produce maximum tears among its core demographic, but instead “Don’t Make Me Go” wallows in tedious side diversions about boyfriends, hook-ups, and ex-wives that it basically loses momentum before it even begins. So when Max (Cho), who has a long history of migraines and headaches, receives the news from his doctors about the illness, his first instinct isn’t to tell his young daughter, Wally (Isaac), which he ironically preaches on a daily basis about the value of telling the truth, but plans a road-trip to some class reunion across the country.
Wally, who is 17, strives for independence and is doing all the rebellious things most teenagers at her age do like sneaking off to her boyfriend’s house (though they aren’t really “official” as the move spends approximately 45-minutes reminding us) and trying to pinpoint her post high-school plans. Max views the road-trip as a sort of last ditch effort to reconnect and ensure her future remains unaltered during the final year of his life (mom has been out of the picture since she was born). Again, she doesn’t want to go on the road-trip (a dual metaphor used in the title), but Max keeps his secret deep within despite friction and turmoil beginning to plague their travels. At one point, they end up on a nude beach.
Written by Vera Herbert, Cho and Isaac are fine with the material they’re given, but “Don’t Make Me Go” never deepens the core relationship enough to make a dent. It vibes on bullet points and sparknote caricatures to leave an impact (Jeamine Clement, in a rare dramatic turn, shows up in a hilariously mundane extended cameo for no other reason than the movie needed someone to throw anger at). More careful plotting might have alluded to the overall themes Marks and Herbert strive for, but it’s all undone by a finale that has its heart in the right place (making the most of the time while you have it) though it ultimately feels like a collection of half-baked ideas in search of their full potential.
DON’T MAKE ME GO debuts on Amazon Prime Video Friday, July 15th.