Don’t Make Me Go (2022) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A road trip with her dad

“Don’t Make Me Go”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, is predictably sappy but fairly engaging before taking a sudden distracting left turn in the last act. While I will not go into details here for not spoiling anything, I can tell you instead that I was totally caught off guard by that during my viewing, and I am still not so sure about whether the movie really works on the whole, despite the commendable duo performance from its two lead performers.

John Cho, who has steadily advanced during last 18 years since his breakthrough turn in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” (2004), plays Max Park, a single father who has raised his daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) alone for years since he divorced when she was very young. When he is not diligently working at some insurance company, Max usually pays much attention to his daughter’s daily life, and Wally cannot help but become annoyed with that just like any other adolescent girl around her age.

Anyway, the relationship between Max and Wally becomes strained due to a little transgressive act of hers and his following response, but then there comes a very bad news for Max. It turns out that his growing headache is actually caused by a tumor inside his head, and his doctor tells him that he needs to have a special brain surgery right now even though the surgery is quite risky. As ruminating over this sudden possibility of impending death, Max eventually decides to take a road trip along with his daughter, but he does not tell her anything about his serious medical condition while pretending that the trip is just for attending a reunion party for him and his college friends in New Orleans, Louisiana.

While she is not so enthusiastic about this road trip, Wally eventually agrees to go along with her father mainly because she is finally allowed to drive. As shown from a brief comic moment between them, she is not that fully ready for driving her father’s car, and that reminded me of how nervous I was when I drove a car on highway for the first time. Sure, driving on highway turned out to be much easier than expected, but I still remember well when I clumsily attempted to change lanes at one point, so I observed Wally’s heavy-handed attempt in the movie with some personal amusement.

After that point, the screenplay by Vera Herbert leisurely goes through one episodic moment to another along with its two main characters. While they do not have many things to talk about between them, Max is willing to show more of his life and himself to his dear daughter, and the mood between them becomes a little more cheerful as they gradually open themselves to each other more than before.

However, Wally also wants to have her own fun alone. When she and her father later stay at a motel in Texas, she comes to spend some evening time with a young motel employee, she becomes a bit confused when she subsequently finds herself attracted to this dude, who, fortunately for her, handles their situation as tactfully as possible.

When Wally and her father eventually arrive at New Orleans, she comes to learn a bit more about him via several old college friends of his, and Max is reminded of how things have changed since his good old college years. When he later meets a certain old friend who married his ex-wife shortly after she and Max had a divorce, he cannot help but feel bitter, and we are not so surprised by what occurs next between them.

In the meantime, the movie steadily maintains the suspense over what Max is still hiding from his daughter. Besides his current medical condition, he also wants Wally to meet her mother, but, of course, things do not go as well as he hoped, right from when he meets his ex-wife again with his daughter staying outside just in case. As a consequence, Max and Wally find themselves clashing with each other again, but then the movie throws them into a jarringly absurd comic circumstance which is the sole reason of its R rating.

Not long after this point, Herbert’s screenplay abruptly goes into a full melodramatic mode via the aforementioned plot turn, which will require from you considerable suspension of disbelief for good reasons. Although this does not disrupt the overall tone of the story that much, it feels so artificial and contrived that you may become less engaged in what has been so tenderly established and developed along the story.

Anyway, the movie is still supported well by the good efforts from Cho and his co-star. While Cho diligently holds the ground as required, newcomer Mia Isaac often shines in her likable performance, and she and Cho click well together whenever they share the screen. In case of several substantial supporting performers in the film, Kaya Scodelario is solid as Max’s longtime girlfriend although she is usually on the other end of the phone line, and Jen Van Epps and Jemaine Clement are also fine as two different figures in Max’s past.

Overall, “Don’t Make Me Go”, directed by Hannah Marks, does not succeed as much as intended, but it is not a waste of time at all due to the engaging moments from Cho and Isaac. I did not enjoy it enough for recommendation, but you may be able to overlook its flaws more than me, so I will let you decide whether you will spend some time with this modest character comedy drama film.

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