Martian Child (2007)

Rated: PG
Grade: BAAB=A-
Budget: $27 million
Box Office: $7.5 million US, $0.5 million Int’l

Directed by: Menno Meyjes, who also made Manolete last year and worked with John Cusack previously on the unusual Max. He also wrote for The Siege, Ricochet, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Empire of the Sun, and the Color Purple.
Starring: John Cusack, Bobby Coleman, Joan Cusack, Amanda Peet, Sophie Okonendo, Oliver Platt, Richard Schiff, and a cameo by Angelica Houston.

A science fiction writer and widower struggles with self-doubts as tries to adopt an introverted child whose parents abandoned him and now believes himself to be a Martian visiting Earth on an information-gathering mission. This is a semi-autobiographical account of the experiences of David Gerrold, who wrote the classic Star Trek episode, The Trouble with Tribbles.

Entertainment Value: B
I think it’s cool that John and Joan Cusack make movies together, and some of my favorites have come from them: Say Anything and Grosse Pointe Blank notably. This isn’t their greatest and the chemistry seems strange here, but the movie is wonderful. You begin to wonder whether Dennis might not actually be from Mars, as he says. The casting is excellent all around and I was engaged throughout, never quite knowing for sure what might happen next in this charming little movie.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence A, Language B+, Illegality A
Yet again I am baffled by the MPAA here. Mild language and thematic material are their reasons, but I don’t get it. Kidz-in-mind claims there was one profanity, but I don’t remember it, and there were some religious exclamations. The “thematic material” has to do with isolation, being made fun of a little bit, parental abandonment, a couple of angry moments, and death, but I still don’t see why this wouldn’t be G.

Significant Content: A
People who have experienced isolation are best able to understand others who feel isolated. When we experience trauma, we all deal with it in different ways. It’s okay to be different, but it’s also good to know when to fit in. Real relationships are based on honesty and being willing to understand each other’s world. Love is what makes us unique and precious. Children are like little alien beings learning how to be human. Parents need to find out where a child is before they start blasting away with their idea of what he should be.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
To me, the hook that kept this movie intriguing throughout is that they give you just enough latitude to consider the possibility that Dennis might actually be from Mars. Through a variety of devices, this movie explores one of the great themes of growing up: the difficulty of crafting and preserving your own identity while you assimilate with broader society. I can definitely see the value of this movie as a springboard for discussion with children who might be having trouble fitting in, which probably includes all of them.

Discussion Questions:
~Is it a good idea for children to have imaginary friends?
~Are fantasy worlds the sign of a healthy imagination or a dangerous denial of reality?
Why does our scientific culture (represented by the oversight board) seem so intent on denying fantasy and imagination? What is the value of these things?
~Have you ever felt like an alien in a strange land? Do you think that most other people have also felt this way?
~When is it wise to conform, and when is it better not to? To what degree does conformity represent love for other people? To what degree does non-conformity represent a demand that other people love us? What would you have said when Angelica Houston asked, "Why can't you just be what we want you to be?" Who do you feel has exerted more pressure on you to conform: your friends or your parents?
~Why do you think Dennis believes he is from Mars? What does this personal narrative accomplish for him? Is there anything in your own personal narrative that is weird but you cherish?
~Should John Cusack have made more of an effort to really believe Dennis about his Martianity or not?
~How would this relationship have been different if Dennis had been Cusack’s real son? Would he have been as likely to be indulgent of his ideas then? Would he have felt even more freedom to do so because he wasn’t worried about someone having to approve his adoption?
~What do you think of Cusack as a parent in this particular case?
~How important is it to believe that someone else is really on your side in life? What indications does Cusack give that he is on Dennis’s side, such as explaining to the teacher that he was having gravity issues his first day of class.
~What does the weight belt symbolize? Have you ever felt like you were giving gravity issues? What is the purpose of the Polaroid photos? If these two items were characters in this movie, what role would they be playing?
~Why does Dennis steal stuff?
~Did Cusack do the right thing in what he wrote? How is authenticity the key to really impacting people? What happens when you commercialize authentic art? In what ways does money entice us to be or do something other than what we really have in our hearts?
~What is this movie trying to say about the publishing world? The film world? Professional psychology? How realistic are its portrayals here?
~Is self-doubt a healthy check against errro and arrogance, especially for parents? Is self-doubt ever unhealthy or dangerous?
Overall Grade: A-
It’s a more plausible and far less offensive version of Little Miss Sunshine. One you could actually watch with your kids and discuss with them.

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