Premise: When a single father to a teenage daughter learns that he has a fatal brain tumor, he takes her on a road trip to find the mother who abandoned her years before and to try to teach her everything she might need over the rest of her life.

For 2/3s of its runtime, Hannah Marks’ Don’t Make Me Go is a very solid road trip drama about a father keeping his fatal brain tumor a secret as he takes his teenage daughter to meet her estranged mother. John Cho and Mia Isaac give strong performances in a script that does a respectable job of setting up the dire and dramatic circumstances in which the pair find themselves. It is unfortunate, however, that the other 1/3 of the film squanders that good will by upending itself with an unearned and manipulative story beat that feels too much like Vera Herbert’s script is attempting to trick the audience rather than bring the story to an organic and satisfying conclusion.

What’s most frustrating about the sharp turn at the end of Don’t Make Me Go is that the film knows exactly what it’s doing. It opens on a black screen with teenager Wally’s (Mia Isaac) voice warning the audience that they “will not like how this story ends.” Worse yet, when the narrative shifts in the third act, the ominous (and otherwise totally absent) voiceover returns to guide us through the surprise. But it’s not so much easing us through a tough moment as it is reveling in how the story has undoubtedly shocked the viewer. Complete with flashbacks to key scenes while Wally points out the things she presumes the viewer missed, Don’t Make Me Go drifts dangerously close to outright insulting the viewer while congratulating itself for pulling a fast one that allows the script to mostly side-step pivotal character growth.

In that sense, Don’t Make Me Go is eerily reminiscent of 2018’s Life Itself, another movie that disguises its emotionally manipulative storytelling with unearned surprise plot turns. It isn’t a surprise that Don’t Make Me Go screenwriter Vera Herbert worked on NBC’s This Is Us, which was created by Life Itself‘s writer/director Dan Fogelman. These projects are all indicative of a specific brand of overly faux-sentimental storytelling that prioritizes plot turns over organic character development.

However, unlike Life Itself, Don’t Make Me Go has the heart of a promising first couple acts. Cho excels at finding sympathy in the character of Max, a man who is willfully hiding a painful secret from his daughter. Max also harbors ill feelings toward his ex-wife and struggles to find a connection with a woman he’s casually seeing (Kaya Scodelario). These obstacles (along with Max’s diagnosis) give Cho plenty of room to explore the character.

Likewise, Wally struggles with a summer relationship with a boy who won’t commit to being her boyfriend despite wanting to advance their physical relationship. The confusion that comes from the boy’s aloofness leads Wally to make some rash decisions and heightens her feelings about her estranged mother as well.

But just when both characters’ personal journeys converge, leading them to communicate more openly with each other and strengthening their bond, the movie throws its wrench in the works and derails the character growth. The pair’s arc does resolve itself, for the most part. It’s just not resolved in a meaningful enough way before the plot turns and the film shifts its gears.

Don’t Make Me Go isn’t the abject failure that Life Itself was in 2018. Nor is it as morally misguided as a movie like 2016’s Collateral Beauty. It just follows a trend of storytelling that caters to an overly sentimental audience base. There’s definitely a market for that kind of storytelling. It’s when a film panders to that audience to the point of insulting their intelligence that it becomes a problem. Don’t Make Me Go could have been a charming emotional drama anchored by two dynamite performances, but they chose to go the other route and that’s a real shame.

Don’t Make Me Go premieres on Amazon Prime on July 15th, 2022.

About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive ViewerAnthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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