Hug the trees. Just not too hard.
At his age of 12 years old, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with a lot. For one, his mom (Felicity Jones) is sick with cancer and slowly, but surely, dying. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), while meaning well, is also a bit of a stuck-up meanie who doesn’t let Conor have any fun, when at his age, that’s all he should be caring about. His dad (Toby Kebbell) is barely in the picture, now living in the States and occasionally coming back across the pond to visit and check-up on things. And oh yeah, there’s that talking tree in his backyard (voiced by Liam Neeson). The Monster may cause a lot of imaginary destruction and chaos, but mostly what he wants to do is tell Conor stories about life, death and love, making him think longer and harder about his own life, his family, and his whole grieving process. Of course, this makes Conor dream more than he should, wondering what’s real and what isn’t.
A Monster Calls is one of those movies that’s so emotionally draining and dour, that after awhile, you start to think whether or not it’s actually a good movie. Because while it’s definitely good at making it so that every person seeing it has at least one tear in their eye during the two-hour run-time, there’s other elements it seems to be lacking in, like an actual plot development, or meaning to it all. And sure, you could say that A Monster Calls is one, long movie about the grieving process and learning that it’s okay to be sad, but still, does that make it a better movie?
Not really, but I will say that director J.A. Bayona is a very talented fella who knows how to make a story about a woman slowly dying from cancer, pretty compelling.
That said, it is a pretty sad movie and at times, feels like it’s doing incessantly, to the point of where it seems like it’s got no other card to play. The only moments of actual fun and spirit seem to come through the talking-tree bits, but that’s only because listening to Liam Neeson tell folk tales is like a warm cup of coffee on a cold, winters day. Bayona definitely knows how to set a mood, as he’s done with the Orphanage and the Impossible, but he doesn’t quite know how to go from the mood-setting; to just make people feel sad and depressed is one thing, but to actually do something with that sadness and depression is a whole other thing and I’m still not sure Bayona’s been able to work that out perfectly.
However, this may be Bayona’s best movie in that it does move at a solid pace, all things considered. Being a nearly two-hour movie about a woman dying, could have been a total and complete slug of a flick, but Bayona knows that in order for a story like this to work and actually matter, there has to be something driving the movie along. And sure, while he doesn’t always seem to have it going for him in the story-department, he more than makes up for it in his characters.
As Conor, Lewis MacDougall has got a whole lot to do, but he handles it all well; there are times when he seems a bit too smart for his own good, but there are others where it seems like he’s just a kid, who has no clue of what’s really going on in the world out there, and most of all, hasn’t come to terms with the fact that his mom’s about to die and his life as he’s known it, is about to go through a total and complete change. It’s a weighty role and the kind that could definitely make or break a child actor (see Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but MacDougall’s very good here. He plays a kid very well and when the movie really starts hitting the hard stuff, he’s even more compelling to watch.
Felicity Jones has impressed me before, but for some reason, she doesn’t quite work here, but it may not be her fault. Due to her character literally dying the whole entire movie, we don’t really get many shades to her and instead, only see her sick and in constant agony. It’s a one-note role and unfortunately, Jones just isn’t able to do much with it. Sigourney Weaver shows up as Conor’s strict grand-mom, who may seem like the typically evil mom-mom, but has certain shadings to her that make her probably the most compelling character in the bunch. Toby Kebbell, despite getting maybe one or two scenes, does a nice job as Conor’s estranged daddy and a longer movie would have probably focused on this relationship more.
But nope, of course, we get a talking-tree and dreams.
Not that I’m complaining, because I cried. Then again, how could you not? A Monster Calls seems to have one sole objective on its mind from the very beginning and it’s hard not to let go and just allow for the movie to rip the tears right out of you. The movie’s not perfect, but hey, at least it gets its job done.
Consensus: Pretty sad and emotional, A Monster Calls is an interesting fantasy flick that deals with grief and death, yet, is still somewhat compelling.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire