Beautiful, Sad Fable Well Worth Watching
Directed by J.A. Bayona
Starring Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver
Released January 6th, 2017
Connor O’Malley’s mother is dying. She has her good and bad days, but the illness is terminal. It’s only a matter of time. Connor (Lewis MacDougall) is a timid Irish kid, bullied by his classmates. His parents are long divorced, with his father (Toby Kebbell) now living in Los Angeles.
Conner is very close with his mother (Felicity Jones). She’s an artist, and she encourages him to draw. One stressful night, through his anguished drawings, Connor calls a monster for help. The monster comes to his window in the form of a humanoid yew tree.
This monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) tells Connor he will tell him three stories, and then Connor must tell the monster “his truth.” Connor believes the monster has come to save his mother, but the monster has a different motivation.
I enjoyed the reveal of what Connor’s truth is, and it makes for an emotional ending.
The monster’s stories are presented in striking sequences of digital watercolor, bringing to life parables with no heroes or villains, only shades of gray. Connor is confused by these stories, failing to see how they can help his mother beat her sickness.
Connor finds himself at war with everyone. At war with his father, who travels from the United States to see him. At war with the bully at school, who calls him “invisible.” At war with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who wants him to come live with her.
Weaver is excellent as a cold, no-nonsense woman who knows what needs to be done, no matter how hard it will be. Lewis MacDougall is a promising young actor, and Felicity Jones gives a heartbreaking performance as Connor’s loving mother.
Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage) is an inspired choice to bring Patrick Ness’ screenplay (based on his novel) to life. A Monster Calls is rated PG-13 and I think that age range is the perfect audience for this film. Younger kids would be too upset with the mother’s illness, and older audiences may find themselves a bit bored since it’s easy to see where the story is going to go. In his own way, Bayona has made a version of Pan’s Labyrinth (an R-rated film about a child dealing with loss through fantasy) for the younger set.
Connor’s “truth” that he must tell the monster is wrapped up in a recurring nightmare he’s having about losing his mother. I enjoyed the reveal of what Connor’s truth is, and it makes for an emotional ending. A Monster Calls feels disjointed and suffers from pacing problems, but this sad fable is still worth watching.