John Cho, an actor who first made his name as part of the American Pie and Harold & Kumar franchises, has come a long way from sex and drugs jokes. He’s starred as Sulu in three Star Trek movies, earned praise for roles in small films like Columbus and Searching, and even brought a revered anime character to life in the short-lived Netflix show Cowboy Bebop.
He’s back as the star of a movie in the new Amazon Prime Video film Don’t Make Me Go. He plays Max Park, a single father to daughter Wally (Mia Isaac). A sophomore in high school, Wally is at the rebellious teenager phase, using a lot of sarcasm toward her dad. But teenage disdain is nothing compared to what Max gets in a visit to the doctor: A diagnosis of a malignant bone tumor at the base of his skull, one which offers a low possibility of survival even with surgery.
Unable to bring himself to tell Wally the truth, he instead takes her on a long road trip from California to New Orleans for a college reunion, hoping that Wally’s mom, who left when she was a baby, will be there. Per road trip movie rules, not everything goes as expected, the two argue and bond over a variety of things that happen along the way, and surprises abound.
Directed by Hannah Marks and written by Vera Herbert, the film starts off with Wally saying via voiceover that audiences won’t like how the movie ends, and it delivers on that promise, though perhaps not in the way you might expect. The movie has to walk a fine line throughout, with the audience being aware of something important that one of the main characters doesn’t know, but the filmmakers keep the story from becoming overly cloying or sentimental.
The film doesn’t break any ground in detailing a parent-child relationship, but it lays a solid foundation for the connection between Max and Wally. And so as Max tries to fit a lifetime’s worth of life lessons into one road trip, or when Wally sneaks out to go to a party with a clerk from Texas motel, the level of love you feel between them never wavers.
There are some subplots that feel tacked on or under-explored, especially Wally’s semi-relationship with a boy at her school and Max’s booty call relationship with Annie (Kaya Scodelario). The idea that Max is going to surprise Wally with her mom feels strange right from the start, even taking into account Max’s fragile state of mind. And it’s difficult to reconcile the way they end the film, even if they sell it relatively well.
Cho delivers everything one could want from the star of this type of film. He’s empathetic yet strict when the character needs to be, and keeps the audience engaged with his personal struggle without resorting to manipulation. Isaac is a newcomer, but she feels like a natural in the role, and she’ll likely be in-demand in the near future.
Don’t Make Me Go is set up from the start to be a tearjerker, and only the hardest of hearts won’t be affected by its story. It has a few missteps along the way, but the strength of its central relationship carries the film overall.
Don't Make Me Go debuts on Amazon Prime Video on July 15.