Review: A Kid Like Jake (2018)

I try to embrace any gender-related movies, TV shows, or books with open arms. I don’t know how A Kid Like Jake flew under my radar, but hearing of its arrival on Netflix made me eagerly anticipate the end of the Friday shift more than usual so that I could huddle up on the couch to see how another writer would tackle a subject that needs no introduction at this point.

A Kid Like Jake is an independent film starring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons that aims to tell the story of how Claire and Greg Wheeler, a middle class couple, handles their preschool-age son’s “gender expressive” behavior when it comes time to send him off into the big wide world. I can’t say I’m too familiar with Claire Danes’ work prior to this, but it’s hard to find a soul who hasn’t heard of Jim Parsons following the 12 season run of The Big Bang Theory.

As someone who first saw Jim in one of my favorite independent movies, Garden State, long before The Big Bang Theory, I was intrigued to see how the 40-odd-year-old actor would tackle a more conventional role again after so long of playing the socially inept scientist in one of the world’s most divisive sitcoms. I hate to admit it, but one of the first things that came to mind is how difficult it was to see Parsons, an openly gay actor, portray the straight family man when, in actuality, it was genius casting given the subject matter.

Though the synopsis of the film might have you believe it’s all about tackling Jake’s specific nonconforming gender expression, A Kid Like Jake appears to be a much broader look at how gender stereotypes negatively affect us all. There’s the stay at home mother, the working father who’s accused of failing to enforce male gender norms onto his son, the woman who’s marriage falls apart because she doesn’t want kids, and the young boy whose life is about to be ruined to uphold the status quo.

While it’s implied at one point that Jake may actually be exhibiting signs of being trans, the movie instead continues to question societal norms rather than simply slapping a label onto a child and calling it a day. After all, why should Jake be denied the opportunity to play princess, watch Disney movies, or play with dolls just because he is biologically male? It’s only when kids who’ve been brought up to shun diversity in this way pick on Jake that he begins to act out by throwing tantrums and threatening to mutilate his genitals. The child hadn’t expressed a distaste in his body until society told him his crotch defined what he could and couldn’t enjoy. There’s no mention of changing his name or pronouns, and the point is that he shouldn’t have to. None of us should have to jump through hoops just to validate our actions.

Jake doesn’t play a massive camera-facing role throughout the 90-minute run time. It irked me a little at first, but again, I think there’s a good reason for that. It’s the adults that need to stand trial here. Their child is too young and innocent to do anything about the situation, and it’s up to his parents to read between the lines and figure out the best course of action. Claire’s character comes dangerously close to buckling under the pressure when she ponders the thought of it being the parent’s job to protect their child, but things come to a tidy conclusion once the movie’s proper confrontation comes and goes.

I can’t vouch for how the fuse is lit, but the final argument that gets the couple on the same page is a brutally tense showdown that I won’t soon forget. These two characters remained calm and composed throughout the movie when they should have been angry and confused, yet they even stayed true to their personalities in the heat of the moment rather than throwing it all away in what could have been a shock and awe shouting match.

Rather than forcing their expressive and unique child to fall in line with society’s expectations, the couple arrived at the realization that it isn’t their child with a problem; it’s the world. And it’s absolutely true. A Kid Like Jake has a lot to say, yet it doesn’t slam the idea of gender diversity down the throats of those that would spit it back up. Instead, it makes it simple enough for anyone to digest; a child is happy, and archaic rules that ultimately serve no purpose jeopardizes that. Jake probably isn’t on the road for a conflict-free life, but why should he give up on his own happiness to appease them? It’s a message that should strike a cord in all of us.

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