A Kid Like Jake
Saturday, May 5, 5:15 p.m.
MKA Upper School, 6 Lloyd Road

Q&A with director Silas Howard, actor Leo James Davis, and writer Daniel Pearle follows the screening.

For Montclair Local

Robin Woods writes the “about town” column “Robin’s Nest” for the Montclair Local.

Jake is Different, but not in the way I expected when I first read the film’s title.

I must confess. I thought it would be a story about a kid who is autistic or suffering from a dreaded disease, but it explores societal mores, acceptance and letting people “be.”

Alex and Greg Wheeler (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) have a 4-year-old son, Jake (Leo James Davis) who spends most of his time in preschool in the dress-up area. The Wheelers are concerned about his future acceptance into elite private kindergarten programs in Brooklyn, NY.

With many former Brooklynites relocating to Montclair, we might identify with this arduous and sometimes disappointing process. There are too many applications for just a few open slots for the “best schools.”

Writer Daniel Pearle adapted his 2013 play into this saga of a couple worrying about Jake, who wants to be Rapunzel and wear a fish-tail costume for Halloween. As the Wheelers go through their daily lives, former lawyer but now stay-at- home mom Alex and family therapist dad Greg try to cope with the competitiveness of school choice, while fielding the jibes coming from people during idle chit chat during nights out with friends. Amal (Priyanka Chopra) and her husband Darren (Aasif Mandvi) brag about their talented, athletic and brilliant son who is sure to receive scholarships to a number of schools. Alex remarks to Greg that Jake might just be on to something about wanting to be Ariel (The Little Mermaid), since Ariel has a large group around her who cater to her every whim and do everything for her.

Director Silas Howard understands and experienced just how hard it can be for someone growing up and dealing with being gay and transgender. “I grew up in rural Vermont with parents who were considered avant-garde freaks for always doing things differently and understanding how different I was. They supported this and let me be,” he said.

“Daniel Pearle and I worked very well together adapting his play into a film. The core came from the play, and the script is very human,” Howard said.

Howard mentioned that writer Daniel Pearles’ inspiration for the film came from an observation he had. “What I found interesting while tutoring kids is how much we treasure uniqueness, but punish people who are different.”

Whether or not you decide the story’s about a little boy being judged for being transgender, struggling with gender dysphoria, or just likes to wear skirts is up to you. Sometimes a tutu is just a tutu, he said.

Howard said “I think I am a die-hard storyteller more than a die-hard filmmaker.”

Jake’s dress issue works its way into Greg’s professional life as a lawyer, as shown during his sessions with a client (Amy Landecker). She is going through a divorce and can’t bring herself to sign the final divorce papers. Being childless worries her, and she wonders whether she’ll ever have children of her own, as the scene shifts to what happens when Jake requests a dress up party for his fifth birthday, along with a new sequin tutu.

The irony of longing for children and then going through unexpected daily meltdowns was not lost on me, as I have a nest full of personalities like that.

Ann Dowd as Catherine, Alex’s opinionated and wisecracking mother and grandma to Jake provides some comic relief into the film. She has no filter and pulls no punches with her opinions, be it about how the women’s movement was wasted on her daughter, or the choice of a Halloween costume for Jake. While shopping with her friend Amal, Alex picks up and puts down Disney princess and Little Mermaid choices Jake would love to wear, and caves in by purchasing superhero and masculine garb for Alex, which will be more easily accepted.

By the film’s end, Alex comes to term with Jake’s acceptance to a public elementary school and stops agonizing about his future, with Jake happily skipping down the block flanked by his parents, wearing pink leggings, white boots and a sparkling rainbow tutu.