Well, of course I was bawling by the finale of J.A Bayona’s “A Monster Calls”. It’s just that I feel like I’ve been manipulated again (see 2012’s “The Impossible”). Is there any way not to be effected by nearly two hours of a sweet, angry, young boy, losing his mother to cancer? And renowned actors like Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver, milk this stuff to distraction. It’s not bad acting, it’s just showy. There’s very little surprise here, and certainly not enough magic. We’ve been down this familiar road before. The best featuer of the movie is Liam Neeson’s voice.
Conor O’Malley (a fine Lewis MacDougall) is angry and distracted, plus lonely at school. He’s also bullied by his physically larger classmate, Harry (James Melville). Of course, with his young mother, Lizzie (Ms. Jones, dying impressively…I guess) slowly succumbing to cancer, while his absentee father (a very good Toby Kebbell) escapes to America, and his stately, taciturn grandmother (a slow burn Ms. Weaver) acts a substitute guardian–you can certainly understand Conor’s anguish and pain. That’s part of the problem–it’s all too obvious. And then a giant yew tree (umm, Mr. Neeson) uproots and talks–giving Conor some valuable life lessons.
I barely remember the fables the “Monster” spins…only the booming voice that Liam Neeson tells them in. Otherwise, the stories are boring and uninteresting. Conor’s mom’s death is a given, and his dad only being able to handle the fun stuff, falls into that category too. The question is, will grandma thaw in time to raise her grandson? C’mon…haven’t you been paying attention? For decades? I believe that Mr. Bayona is a skilled director, and I’m curious to experience what will emerge from his “Jurassic” assignment (coming in 2018). The Patrick Ness screenplay (based on his book) probably fails him here. There are some beautifully realized moments in this movie. But hardly enough originality to hold up on its own.