A Kid Like Jake is a film that ought to add to the conversation about gender identity among young children.
The roots of A Kid Like Jake in the theater become very clear in the final act through the performances of Claire Danes and Jim Parsons. Through Silas Howard’s direction and the camera framing of cinematographer Steven Capitano Calitri, the performances come off as theatrical rather than cinematic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While it wouldn’t work in other films, it does work for the drama.
Danes and Parsons star as Alex and Greg Wheeler. They are the parents of Jake Wheeler (Leo James Davis), a four-year-old child who is “gender-expansive” as preschool director Judith Lawson (Octavia Spencer) calls it. The preschool encourages these young children to be their true selves. With Greg having a background in psychology, he knows that seeing a professional would be a helpful option. He isn’t afraid of telling Alex that he agrees with Judith as such.
Both Alex and Greg have reached the point in Jake’s life in where they start looking into private schools. At Judith’s suggestion, they seem to play up Jake’s identity issues in their essays. Wanting what is right can open up an entire can of worms. It’s an even newer world for parents of transgender and gender-nonconforming children. They have to learn to raise their children in a way in which they don’t get beat up.
It’s Alex who is having the toughest of time adjusting to what she hears. This comes through in that last argument with Greg. There’s no doubting that Alex is standing in for all of those parents who are in denial of having a transgender/gender-non-conforming child. I’m not using pronouns when discussing Jake because I don’t know which pronouns to use. The two learn to come around by the closing scene but until then, it’s just a phase. This is the reality of children struggling with gender identity: it’s not a phase. It is who we are. All the signs are there but Alex didn’t want to see them.
The subplot between Greg and client Sandra (Amy Landecker) seems to take away from the film’s bigger message. Another fault in the film is that we don’t really see Jake on screen in as much as we see Alex and Greg. Jake gets substantially more screen time in the film than the play.
Having a transgender filmmaker like Silas Howard at the helm of A Kid Like Jake is important in making sure that it gets done the right way. This is because Howard knows from life experience what it means to grow up transgender.
DIRECTOR: Silas Howard
SCREENWRITER: Daniel Pearle
CAST: Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, Priyanka Chopra, Amy Landecker, Leo James Davis, with Ann Dowd and Octavia Spencer
Following the world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program, IFC Films will release A Kid Like Jake in theaters on June 1, 2018 followed by a VOD release on June 8, 2018.