A good-hearted dad must juggle a high-pressure job, the passing of his beloved wife and the demands of their special-needs child in “Po,” an earnest drama that could have used a subtler, less didactic approach to its tender subject matter.
In telling the story of David (Christopher Gorham) and his 11-year-old autistic son, Patrick or “Po” (Julian Feder), director-editor John Asher and writer Colin Goldman (sharing story credit with Steve C. Roberts) are clearly motivated by a personal desire for authenticity: Asher and Goldman, as well as Roberts and Gorham, all have sons “on the spectrum.” (The late daughter of the movie’s composer, Burt Bacharach, was also autistic.)
But the film over-relies on blunt messaging, one-note villains (bullies, bosses, administrators, worst mall cop ever) and several stacked-deck situations to align us with David and Po, even if we’re inherently on their side from the start.
A more fluid, finessed, even edgier approach to the narrative and a rethink of the movie’s cloying fantasy sequences could have made this a far more gripping portrayal on the order of Janet Grillo’s heartbreaking, similarly-themed 2011 feature “Fly Away.”
On the upside, Gorham is first-rate as the beleaguered David and Feder credibly captures Po’s physical and emotional tics and challenges with warmth and depth. Bacharach’s first original film score in 16 years is embracing and evocative.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements and some language
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills