“A Kid Like Jake”: Gender Nonconforming Preschooler

New film A Kid Like Jake, based on Daniel Pearle‘s same-titled play, comes to us from transgender director Silas Howard. If it’s not actually playing in a theater near you, you can find it where I did, for rent on Amazon Prime.

Although the title seems to indicate the “kid” is the star, we see very little of Jake. A Kid Like Jake is actually more about the parents. Amy Nicholson, Variety, introduces the film:

…4-year-old Jake (Leo James Davis) is creative, stubborn, and smart — qualities that aren’t special enough to guarantee a scholarship to a competitive New York private school. Jake’s also transgender, maybe, or as his preschool advisor Judy (Octavia Spencer) describes him, ‘gender expansive.’ Judy suggests Jake’s parents Alex and Greg (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) include his princess play in their applications, the first pebble in what slowly becomes an emotional avalanche that threatens their marriage.

Further description of Jake’s parents by Emily Yoshida, Vulture: “Alex, a retired lawyer, is a walking ball of neuroses whose anxieties rattle out of her mouth a mile a minute, and Greg, a therapist, is watchful and diplomatic as the couple run around from interview to interview.”

Greg we come to know better via his therapeutic style—which not only plays out in his office but also at home. He, for example, appears passive, indirect, neutral, and inclined toward Freudian-type analyses of behavior.

A lawyer who’s now mainly a homemaker, Alex’s ability to nurture Jake may have developed in counter-response to having a critical, controlling mom, who’s seen off and on throughout the film. It’s Alex, though, who as a parent has more difficulty grasping the depth of Jake’s gender issues.

A Kid Like Jake, suggests Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter, “strives to present an even-handed account of the couple’s increasingly divergent views, with Alex resistant to ‘putting a label’ on their child, and Greg more open to embracing Jake’s transgender nature.” Not surprisingly, Greg is the parent who’s open to Jake seeing a child therapist to help him adjust.

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com, regarding other characterizations:

Friends and family members might mean well—or at least tell themselves they mean well—but end up saying something inadvertently dismissive or demeaning. The always-great Ann Dowd, as Alex’s judgey, passive-aggressive mother, tries to impose her will on everybody all the time, but eventually reveals unexpected complexity to her character. Priyanka Chopra, as Alex’s good friend and the mom of one of Jake’s schoolmates, might not be as trustworthy as she initially seemed. People are imperfect.

See the trailer below:

The stage origins of A Kid Like Jake are evident in its level of talkiness, and film critiques have been decidedly mixed. In closing, excerpts from several reviews that zero in on why this is so:

Amy Nicholson, Variety: “It’s a credible portrait of two good people fumbling with a dilemma: Should Jake be given a label he’s yet to request? The script’s central irony is that while angry kids are ordered to use their words, adults talk endlessly without ever saying what they mean. The same goes for the film, which starts a conversation it doesn’t fully dare to explore.”

Alex Barasch, Slate: “An authentic, conversational messiness we rarely see on screen.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “…might not be especially cinematic, but it is profound in its simplicity and truthfulness about what real fights sound like and what real lives look like.”

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