John Cho in the drama directed by Hannah Marks – Deadline
Don’t make me go which premiered at the Tribeca Festival and debuts Friday on Amazon’s Prime Video, is a small but moving “road movie” that uses well-worn genre to tell the memorable story of a father and daughter who learn new things about each other on a road trip across the country. This movie would probably get lost in a summer full of tentpole attractions in theaters, but it’s ideal streaming material, a cut above most in fact, largely thanks to star John Cho and newcomer Mia Isaac making this trip worthwhile.
Cho plays the father, Max, whose wife Nicole (Jen Van Epps) abandoned him and their then one-year-old daughter, Wally (Issac), forcing Max to abandon his dreams of a music career and embark on a job he finds boring but necessary to give Wally a decent life as he raises him as a single father. She looks like a normal teenager, both good and bad, and a loving father, but tragedy comes when her constant headaches are diagnosed as a brain tumor. He only has a year left to live unless he has a very risky operation where he could well die on the table. He refuses and instead decides to use what time he has left to give Wally his all, and actually convinces her to join him on a cross-country road trip for his 20-year high school reunion. She resists, but he sweetens the pot by agreeing to teach her to drive along the way so she can get her license – a dream of every teenager. What he doesn’t tell her is that he’s dying, or that his real motive is to hope that his AWOL ex and his ruthless mother will also be there so he can reunite them at this crucial moment.
The film has fun with the trip itself, including an accidental visit to a nudist beach in Florida (something that actually happened on a similar trip for the film’s director), but things don’t pan out. don’t go over so well at the reunion, where Nicole doesn’t show but her now-estranged ex Dale (Jemaine Clement) does. He is Max’s best friend who ran away with the woman, but is no longer in contact with her. In their own awkward meeting. at least it gives enough clues to send Max in the right direction to find her as their journey continues, a journey that soon goes into unexpected territory.
Director Hannah Marks is a young actress and filmmaker who really finds her rhythm with this very human father-daughter story but who never gives in to feeling. In fact, the screenplay is by 23-year-old Vera Herbert, who takes what might be awfully familiar and treacherous material and instead finds her heart in the right place, even if it’s off the beaten track. A lot of it works because Cho is an actor who can’t hit a wrong note, and the unknown Isaac matches him all the way, a new find headed for big things. Kaya Scodelario as Max’s on/off girlfriend Annie also hits just the right notes. Clément, working in a different vein than previously seen in his career (Flight of the Conchords), and Van Epps both manage to overcome limited screen time to make strong impressions.
Marks makes remarkable use of New Zealand locations (forced there due to the pandemic) replacing California, New Mexico and Florida. You would never know if you don’t know. The producers are Donald DeLine, Leah Holzer and Peter Saraf. Worth checking out on Amazon.
Watch my video review above with scenes from the movie.
Do you plan to see Don’t make me go? let us know what you think.