There are a couple of odd things to note about “A Kid Like Jake.”
First, the titular child who gives the movie its name? The film’s not about him. Leo James Davis, the young actor who plays Jake, doesn’t even get a lot of screen time.
Secondly, the movie’s premise sounds like it should be the basis for a barbed satire of the finest proportions. Instead, it opts for a tone that is decidedly sober and lacking any kind of sharp edge.
The film centers on Greg (Jim Parsons) and Alex (Claire Danes), well-to-do New Yorkers with a fondness for cocktail parties. Dad is a therapist while Mom is a lawyer who chose to stay at home to devote time to their 4-year-old son, Jake.
The couple hits a crossroad when it comes time to find a kindergarten for Jake. Thanks to a zoning change, Jake isn’t eligible for the public school for which his parents were hoping. Now it’s time to get him into private school, which involves essays and interviews as he competes against hundreds of kids. How do you make Jake stand out?
Judy, the principal of his preschool, has some advice. Jake is a kid who loves Disney princesses and wants to dress as Rapunzel for Halloween; as Judy calls it, he engages in “gender-expansive play.” Why not turn that into a selling point, she says, essentially marketing him on the diversity angle?
The film then follows his parents, who wrestle with this decision. Alex is anxious about the move, resisting the urge to label her son at such a young age. Yet they reluctantly push forward with the plan, and a schism between the couple begins to grow.
Adapted by Daniel Pearle from his stage play, the films boasts a couple of explosive scenes between Greg and Alex, and the actors really connect with the material. But it also points out the film’s stage origins; it often feels like they’re killing time until The Next Big Moment rolls around.
There is also a laziness to the writing, particularly when it comes to the supporting characters. Judy (Octavia Spencer) is gay, which becomes a plot point even though viewers had no idea until it’s suddenly blurted out late in the film. Another character, broadly played by Aasif Mandvi, simply exists to speculate about Caitlyn Jenner’s sexuality and serve as the catalyst for another argument. Alex’s mom (Ann Dowd, pitched way too high) wanders in and out, tut-tutting about her daughter’s choices like a character on a bad ’70s sitcom.
Those missteps gives the movie a floundering air that all its good intentions (and good performances) can’t completely overcome. “A Kid Like Jake,” isn’t terrible, but it sure could be better.
IFC Films presents a film directed by Silas Howard and written by Daniel Pearle. Rated R (for some language). Running time: 87 minutes. Now showing at the Wilmette Theatre.