The urge to protect versus the need to create space is the emotional and territorial struggle at the heart of “A Kid Like Jake,” the modest but effective parenting drama from director Silas Howard and screenwriter Daniel Pearle, adapting his play.
As getting-by Brooklynites Alex (Claire Danes) — a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom — and therapist Greg (Jim Parsons) grapple with the economic realities of a pricey preschool for their 4-year-old Jake, they find themselves unexpectedly bumping heads over the emerging realities of the gender-nonconforming boy they unconditionally love.
Does his princess-centric play-acting — and preference for dresses over jeans — create singular potential in the race for school placement? Or does that unfairly label a child too early? Navigating the minefield of parental intrusiveness is an obstacle course played out with sensitivity and intelligence on Danes’ and Parsons’ faces, which makes for the kind of heartbreakingly real fights in which good, caring people talk past each other in their quest for understanding and solutions.
The movie wisely keeps Jake on the periphery, a pint-sized blur of energy and light, because the true role-prescribing focus here is on Mom and Dad, with solid assistance by Octavia Spencer (as a supportive preschool teacher), Ann Dowd, Priyanka Chopra and Amy Landecker. Though its vibe is often too meandering, “A Kid Like Jake” shows that even the most accepting of environments aren’t immune to the vulnerabilities and worries coursing through any well-intended parent’s soul.
‘A Kid Like Jake’
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Starts June 8, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.