Martian good for a cry

By Gus Bode

“Martian Child”

Rated: PG

Starring: John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Amanda Peet, Bobby Coleman


Directed by Menno Meyjes

Runtime: 108 min.

If one thing is indicated by the abundant amount of sniffles elicited from audience members viewing “Martian Child,” it is this – the family-centric flick is good for a sentimental weep.

Starring John Cusack as science fiction author and recent widower David, “Martian Child” examines themes of what it means to be a family and if it is really important at all to fit in among society. The film is based on a novel by David Gerrold.

David goes through with the adoption of Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a troubled child facing abandonment issues after his parents left him. As a defense mechanism, Dennis claims to believe he is from Mars. The two seek a middle ground and try to establish a father-son relationship as David copes with being a single father to a child that desperately needs his love and affection, while Dennis struggles to trust his new dad and understand his parents will not abandon him again.

Though the film all too often slips into an overly-sentimental dialogue, such as David’s endless professions of love to Dennis when he says he will never, ever leave him and reinforces the ever by repeating it 20 times. The heart is there. The film has numerous touching moments where audience members truly ache for the unfortunate life Dennis has had.

The boy insists on wearing a “weight belt,” made of batteries he has duct-taped together, because his body isn’t used to Earth’s gravity and he might float away. Recognizing this as a metaphor for how expendable Dennis feels he is to the adults in his life, audience members can’t help but feel bad for a boy who pretends to be a Martian and creates his own reality because he can’t handle being a part of the real world.


The element of “fitting in” with society is discussed throughout the film, as David constantly feels internal friction from attempting to teach Dennis that being himself is the best thing he can do, but that the boy also has to realize in order for the adoption agency to believe the two are best fit to be together he has to act like everybody else – even if he thinks he’s from Mars.

The film also does audiences a favor by adding an element of frustration between Dennis and David, giving them a real quality that most sappy movies never try to have. Children with psychological problems aren’t instantly fixed by having stability in their lives, and the filmmaker never prescribes to that easy out but lets the character of David grow along with Dennis as they slowly work through the boy’s problems.

In one scene, David has a fender bender with a police car, but when asked to produce his license he realizes his son, who has an inclination to steal things, has taken it. David asks Dennis if he took the license, and Dennis responds in a Martian language he fabricated. The argument escalates and soon the two are yelling at each other in two different languages in front of the officer, angry and frustrated.

But eventually the two realize this is their life now and their family, and David must be a parent to Dennis, not just a friend.

Thankfully, the film doesn’t tug on heartstrings and tears throughout. David’s sister Liz (Joan Cusack) and his pseudo-love interest Harlee (Amanda Peet) bring much humor into the film as they do their best to help him become a good parent.

Liz is a constant cheerleader for her brother, though she warns parenthood is difficult by referring to her two sons as “Omen one” and “Omen two.” Harlee also does her best to bolster David’s parenting skills with heart-to-heart talks saying sometimes childhood is difficult and the only thing he can do to help Dennis is be there for him and love him.

While “Martian Child” isn’t an out-of-this-world, wonderful movie, the heart the story contains is enormous and makes for a sentimental flick. With positive themes and in-depth character development, audiences who can stand to shed a few tears should definitely check this one out.

Alicia Wade can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275 or [email protected].