A KID LIKE JAKE (Silas Howard, 2018)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, June 1
In 2013, Daniel Pearle’s New School final thesis play, A Kid Like Jake, was staged at Lincoln Center’s small, intimate LCT3 theater. The out writer has now expanded the story into a powerful, moving film, directed by the transgender Silas Howard and starring gay actor Jim Parsons, whose company produced the movie. I only mention this because Howard, who has directed episodes of Transparent as well as the documentary More Than T, about six transgender people, explains in his director statement that “A Kid Like Jake was written and directed by queer artists, and the perspective of the film is really one that looks from a queer and compassionate perspective at the struggles of conventional parents who are raising a gender expansive child.” Those conventional parents are wonderfully played by Parsons as Greg Wheeler, a mild-mannered psychologist, and Claire Danes as Alex Wheeler, a lawyer who put her career on hold to start a family. New zoning dictates that the Park Slope couple must find a new school for their four-year-old son, Jake (Leo James Davis), and although they apply to numerous private schools, they’re afraid they can’t afford the tuition. One of Alex’s friends, teacher and consultant Judy (Octavia Spencer), thinks that they should emphasize Jake’s uniqueness and take advantage of the move toward diversity in education; Jake has a preference for princesses and wearing girls’ clothing, which the parents do not discourage. Greg and Alex have never had a problem with that before, but when Jake starts acting out and the pressure to be accepted to a private school grows, they start fighting with each other in stark, harsh ways, saying things they might never be able to take back.
A Kid Like Jake is a timely, intelligent look at one family’s determination to do what’s right for their child, even as it threatens to tear them apart. There were only three main characters in the stage version: Peter Grosz as Greg, Carla Gugino as Alex, and Caroline Aaron as Judy. (Michelle Beck played several minor roles.) Pearle has expanded the cast to include Ann Dowd as Catherine, Alex’s very concerned mother; Priyanka Chopra as Amal, Alex’s close friend; Amy Landecker as Sandra, one of Greg’s patients; and Davis as Jake, who is never seen in the play. It’s a crafty decision to occasionally show Jake in the film, turning the central controversy into a more tangible situation rather than becoming an issue-driven story. Pearle and Guggenheim Fellow Howard add several subplots that lend further insight to the primary dilemma. Greg is annoyed by his new office neighbor, Dr. Laurel Hendricks (Aneesh Sheth), who practices primal scream therapy; thus, disturbing loud shouting interrupt his sessions with Sandra, but Greg is tentative about confronting Dr. Hendricks. And when Greg and Alex go on a double date with Amal and the boneheaded Darren (Aasif Mandvi), general insensitivity raises its ugly head. Parents always want to believe that their child is special, deserving of only the best; A Kid Like Jake explores that innate desire and how it impacts one family continually thwarted by societal pressures, concepts of supposed normality, and their own biases. A Kid Like Jake opens at IFC on June 1, with Howard and Pearle participating in panel discussions following the 7:10 shows on June 1 and 2, joined by Parsons at the 2:40 show on June 3. Parsons, who is currently starring as Michael in the dazzling Broadway debut of The Boys in the Band, will also give an extended introduction to the 4:50 show on June 3, followed by a Q&A with Howard and Pearle.