Review: ‘Don’t Make Me Go”

In its relatively young lifespan, Amazon’s movie acquisitions can be described as safe. Ranging from the dramatic young adult/teen offerings to soft-hearted family and romance dramas (with a few psychological horror films thrown into the mix), the slate is confidently middle-of-the-road. It’s a strategy that probably looks good on the bottom line, but doesn’t quite set the avant garde cinematic heart on fire.

With that, “Don’t Make Me Go”, directed by Hannah Marks, checks all the appropriate boxes. It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s charming, well acted, and features a travelogue narrative that launched the scraggly Americana backdrop of so many 1990’s indies. But it is safe.

Opening on the tense single father/teenage daughter relationship between Max (the always excellent John Cho) and Wally (newcomer Mia Isaac), the two are navigating the usual bumps in the road, which includes aggressive boys, secret parties, and a father’s need for booty calls without his daughter’s knowledge.

But all of this is upended when Max receives some dispiriting news and decides to impulsively hit the road with his daughter in the hopes of reconnecting with the mother (Jen Van Epps) who walked out on them when Wally was just a baby,

What follows is a life lesson inspired road trip that sees the duo crossing America, making stops along the way for the most stereotypical pit stops, including a countrified Texas style keg stand party in the prairie that sees young Wally waking up on top of a water tower, and a simmering explosion of masculinity between dad and the ex husband (Jermaine Clement) of his vacant wife at their high school reunion. All the ebbs and flows of life are checked off the list.

But what “Don’t Make Me Go” does get right is the wonderful acting between father and daughter. Cho and Isaac make us feel the fights, and the distrust, and the ultimate heartbreak. If there’s one thing the cinematic road trip equals, it’s a metaphor for the marathon of life. As the world rushes by, we’re passengers trying to stay in our lanes- an idea hounded by the great Iggy Pop song that makes itself the film’s national anthem- and Cho and Isaac ground their emotional responses to each other with humane performances.

Directed by actor turned director Hannah Marks and with a screenplay by Vera Herbert, “Don’t Make Me Go” does take a few wrong turns on its road to a new life, namely a needless voice over and secondary characters that fail to pop as animated supporters along the way. And there will be discussions about its final third. I wasn’t bothered by that at all, and those who call it baseless probably weren’t watching some small telegraphed symptoms along the way. Ultimately, “Don’t Make Me Go” doesn’t fully ignite because we’ve seen all this already. The heartbreak and life lessons may be new to Max and Wally, but they’ve been done to death in countless other road trip movies.

Don’t Make Me Go begins streaming Friday July 15th on Amazon Prime.