Hannah Marks has quickly become one of my favorite young filmmakers. Both Banana Split and Mark, Mary & Some Other People (which I raved about at Tribeca last year here) built upon the promise of After Everything to vault her to a place where I look forward to anything she’s involved in. A talented actress as well as writer/director, she has an eye and ear for character and dialogue. So, when it was announced that she was helming Don’t Make Me Go, I was excited, though ever so slightly concerned since she wasn’t writing it. Then, the opening scene is set on a nude beach and it was clear as day that Marks’ imprint is still firmly on this movie. Playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, it’s a terrific flick that honestly can make you laugh and cry in equal measure. It’s more evidence that Marks has got the goods, in abundance.
Don’t Make Me Go is cleverly navigating territory other films have done before, managing to make it feel new in the process. Marks’ ability to invest you in her characters is once again evident here, allowing you to give a major shit about what happens to our two protagonists. That’s essential too, since she needs you to care, or else the character work on display would potentially fall flat. That’s not the case here, which is part of why it’s such a winning picture.
Single dad Max Park (John Cho) and his teen daughter Wally Park (Mia Isaac) have a relatively normal relationship, if one that could stand to be more communicative. She has a guy she’s trying to become official with, while he casually dates. He’s also been having a lot of headaches, leading to a doctor’s appointment. There, he receives horrible news. He has a tumor, one that only has one course of treatment, a risky surgery that has a good chance of killing him on the table. Opting instead to spend his final year with his daughter, he uses the excuse of a High School reunion to take her on a road trip, with the secret goal of reuniting her with her absentee mother. Holding the promise of teaching her to drive as the trump card, he ropes her into the trip.
Out on the road, Max and Wally start having the conversations that they’ve never had. The latter obviously doesn’t know that the former is trying to instill in her what she’ll need for the future. As they drive, Max calls home to his casual fling Annie (Kaya Scodelario), seeking advice, even though they don’t have that sort of a relationship. Of course, once they reach their destination, he’ll have to spill the beans to Wally. In the meantime, they end up getting in some fun trouble, face some serious issues, and have the adventure they both need. Where it goes, well, you’ll just have to see, but it packs a well-earned wallop.
John Cho and Mia Isaac are terrific here. Their chemistry is magnificent, both with each other and with the other characters they interact with. Cho especially has a great vibe with Kaya Scodelario, who is a secret weapon. Scodelario’s playing a role Marks could have aced herself, but it’s great seeing her here, even if it’s a smaller part. Cho is terrific at mixing his emotion and humor, while Isaac, in her debut role, is a revelation. There’s a lot on her shoulders, but it never weighs her down. Supporting players include Jermaine Clement, Otis Dhanji, Mitchell Hope, Stefania LaVie Owen, Josh Thomson, Jen Van Epps, and more, including a Marks cameo, but this is Cho and Isaac’s show.
Director Hannah Marks and writer Vera Herbert make a great match, telling this story with an equal amount of heart and humor. Marks’ tender yet witty direction has a playfulness to it, which takes Herbert’s script and amps up all of the emotions. When it’s funny, it’s very funny, while when it goes for the heartstrings, it tugs with aplomb. As always, Marks is also an expect at casting, so up and down the line, her actors and actresses are pitch-perfect. Don’t Make Me Go is just simply a joy to behold, from start to finish. We’re lucky to have a voice like Marks out there making movies.
Don’t Make Me Go is easily one of the highlights of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival so far. Hannah Marks gives John Cho one of his best roles to date, while Mia Isaac is a legitimate discovery. Everything just comes together in a deeply satisfying manner. Not only is this the class of Tribeca, it’s one of the year’s best, too. Don’t miss this one!