Daniel Carter becomes attached to a little boy. Daniel's 20, yet he really goes above and beyond for this random 6-year-old named Boone whom he barely knows. The question is why.
One can assume that Daniel sees in Boone perhaps a reflection of himself. After a water ice and a game of basketball, Boone reveals a troubled family life, a sick mom and an absentee father and sister. Maybe there are similarities between Boone and Daniel in that regard. I'm not sure.
Writer-director Morgan J. Freeman, not to be confused with Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, doesn't give us much of Daniel's back story. Maybe Daniel feels sorry for Boone because he was being bullied. Either sympathy or empathy, Daniel's motives aren't clearly laid out.
Daniel's introduction is in fact on the run from the NYPD. He's caught and eventually assigned 240 hours of community service. His service is at an elementary school, doing janitorial work. His explanation to the school's principal, played by Oscar-nominated actress Rosie Perez (White Men Can't Jump and Pineapple Express), is Daniel's attempt to downplay his ex-convict status.
When Boone needs help or has something happen to him that he doesn't want, Daniel goes all out to be there for him. In fact, Daniel goes to extremes, and again the question is why. Maybe, it's Daniel's way of negating his misdemeanor record. Maybe, it's a strange form of redemption. Who knows? The filmmaker never definitively expresses Daniel's reasoning.
Like so many independent movies, this one evolves into a road trip. It's a road trip that Daniel instigates. The whole thing becomes interesting, but only after Daniel and Boone make the trek all the way from New York to Texas and realize their journey has just begun.
Unfortunately, because Daniel's motives are never nailed down, the road trip is held together by only the thinnest of threads. I think one of those thinnest threads is the cute, precocious nature of the little boy, Boone, played by Antonio 'A.J.' Ortiz. Yes, Boone is cute and he and Daniel have a series of cute scenes together, but I don't think it was enough brick and mortar.
I'm not sure if one can build an entire movie around a series of cute two-shots, but if this movie works at all, it's got to be due to the 20-something actor who appears in almost every scene. Mark Webber stars as Daniel. Webber, of course, has a boyishness about him who with a look could make you want to adopt him, a look I'm sure he'll be able to give even when he's 60.
The first time I saw Webber was in Todd Solondz's Storytelling (2001) where he played a naive, teenage stoner named Scooby. He had the ability in one facial expression to give disinterest or disappointment that fit perfectly in Solondz's social satire. Fans of Solondz might also recognize in this film, Brendon Sexton III, who plays Daniel's basketball buddy and partner in crime. Sexton co-starred in Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), as Brandon, the misunderstood school bully. Here, he's more or less Daniel's sidekick.
Solondz was known for his black comedy whereas Freeman has an ever so slight, humorous undertone. The ever so slight part comes out of the adorable behavior from the little boy as he questions Daniel about things. Freeman's intent is really to pull gently on the heartstrings. Not to be even minutely melodramatic, Freeman instead photographs this movie, leaning more toward gritty realism.
It's that gritty feel that draws comparisons to such Oscar-nominated independent films like Half Nelson (2006) or critical darlings like Wendy and Lucy (2008). If you're familiar with those two films, this one is like a combination of the two, only not as edgy. Unlike those two, Just Like the Son doesn't have an issue around which to wrap itself.
Yes, Daniel and Boone have no money, but they're not really dealing with poverty. Yes, Daniel is a petty thief, but he's not dealing with kleptomania or any kind of addiction. If anything, Daniel's thievery becomes a helpful tool during his road trip. One can make an argument that this movie tackles the school system or the orphanage system, but it actually doesn't.
I hate to say it, but, in a market where independent films fight bloody deaths for distribution or any kind of recognition, an indie has to be either razor sharp in its comedy, piercing or heartrenching in its drama, or else tackle a provocative or controversial issue. This film doesn't do that. Webber is touching but he, like this film, only brushes by you.
Three Stars out of Five Rated PG-13 for some material inappropriate for children Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.