The inhabitants of The Grand Son (former title: American Pets) live in a world of detachment and playing just for show. Not one emotion rings true, for each action is undone by the next. Love does not exist; people are merely means to ends, and to call the family centering this film “dysfunctional” or “weird” is an insult to the dysfunctional and weird.
And where else would you find such a family except Hollywood? Yes, the city of glitz and glamour is made the fall guy again in another story by being the place where hopes and dreams go to die. We saw a lighter side of it in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with the darker side of Hollywood being represented by an exaggerated crime caper of sorts. Yet, the themes in both Black’s film and Robert Logevall’s The Grand Son share the similar trait of people soullessly using people, with The Grand Son gravitating toward the dark and non-humorous.
The casting of Rhys Wakefield is perfect here, playing a childlike narcissist in a family full of childlike narcissists. His cover-model good looks and Patrick Bateman-esque smile and mannerisms are exactly what this film needs to represent its artificial world where genuine care for others is a foreign concept. Wakefield plays Tod, first seen with a bow and arrow, futilely hunting the deer eating his grandmother Judy’s (Lesley Ann Warren) plants.
Judy is another story altogether, frantically holding onto her position as a home shopping network host. She treats everyone – from the put-upon cameraman to her granddaughter Lani (Fabianne Therese) – with contempt and spite. Not even Tod is safe from her barbs, although he gets less of it than everyone else. We can see how far Judy’s poisonous reach has pervaded the lives of everyone around her through the way they treat each other as replaceable cogs in their own personal machines. Her director Barbara (Sarah Clarke) and her network higher-ups have had enough of Judy and her declining viewership, letting word of Judy’s impending ouster slip to Tod after what seems to be the latest of their loveless, passionless sexual encounters.
Speaking of which, Lani’s dalliance with house painter Jacob (Nathan Keyes) is treated as a joke, and Jacob is made a plaything to be passed around. His payment as a painter is, at one point, dependent on whether or not he exposes himself to Judy in front of Lani. Tod’s not much better, egging on this dehumanization (and stripping Lani of any kind of dignity) while they eat their Chinese takeout. This is what the family seems to love wallowing in: dehumanization. The film’s only emotion is the self-satisfaction in knowing one has dominated the other; any kind of perceived weakness is met with penetration of some kind, be it figurative, sexual, or with a bullet, as one unlucky person tragically finds out.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, everything’s for show, especially concerning Tod, considering he’s the one the entire film follows. Rarely anything happens outside his presence. Appearances, relationships, sex – there’s no anchor behind it, only the surface appearance. But the film examines how far he’ll go to keep those appearances up. Murder, lies, and the resulting cover-up and frame-up? Just another log on the fire, just another thing to do to achieve the ideal.
Abram Makowka’s script revels in the quiet and the quietly solipsistic, with Tod exuding power and dominance rather than running his mouth. Every string Tod pulls is a chess move, even if you think he’s sitting idly in his steam bath. Wakefield plays him as always in control, never for one minute losing his grasp on the situation. There’s no one he doesn’t have wrapped around his finger, including Jacob the painter, Barbara, and Lani’s friend Halle (Danielle Campbell), an aspiring actress who hangs out at the house from time to time. Even the cheery gardener (Gino Montesinos) tries to push back against Tod and fails.
Contrasting him is Lesley Ann Warren’s Judy, who is slowly losing the control Tod seems to be gaining with each passing moment. Judy is written as neurotic and insufferable, resorting to sleeping next to a nightstand full of pills and a handgun in order to feel safe. Warren plays her as a right bastard, all at once being the devil calling the tune and the film’s throbbing heart. No one can escape her; she manages to just about ruin everyone’s life, which is an incredulous thing when you actually see what becomes of her.
You might think an 86-minute film wouldn’t have time to get inside your head and start it spinning the way The Grand Son does. And you would be wrong. Director Robert Logevall makes us squirm by finding the perfect balance between allowing a scene to stew and letting it go on for too long. He gives us only what we need to know about what Tod’s doing before moving on, but he also gives us time to mull Tod’s choices over before rudely interrupting us with Barbara’s fast-paced chatter or Judy making one more coy and disturbing demand. The Grand Son is neither exciting nor boring; much like its subjects, it is only function is to save itself. It does so in a muted fashion, leaving us only to consider the depravity of the entitled and the invincibility of the moneyed.
» MOVIE REVIEWS » The Grand Son (a.k.a. American Pets)
Abram Makowka, American Pets, Andrew Carroll, Carlo Jelavic, Danielle Campbell, Fabianne Therese, Gino Montesinos, Lesley Ann Warren, Movie Review, Nathan Keyes, Rhys Wakefield, Robert Logevall, Sarah Clarke, The Grand Son