Martian Child ** ½ (out of ****)

Director: Menno Meyjes
Writers: Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins based on a story by David Gerrold
Cast: John Cusack, Bobby Coleman, Amanda Peet, Joan Cusack, Anjelica Huston
Rating: PG (mild language)
Running Time: 108 min
Release Date: 11/2/07

David Gordon (John Cusack) is a science fiction writer and a widower. He and his late wife were planning to adopt a child before her death. David wants to fulfill this plan in memory of her and perhaps to fill the void in his life as well. He is introduced to Dennis (Bobby Coleman) a young boy who spends his play time in a box. It seems that he believes that he’s from Mars and as we know the sunlight is not as intense there. So the box shields him. The social worker reasons that since David writes about Mars and Dennis thinks he’s from Mars this would be a good placement. However Lefkowitz (Richard Schiff) who seems to be the leading member of the adoption board has some doubts. The placement goes forward with Lefkowitz indicating that he will be monitoring the case.

First, David has to coax the Dennis out of his box. He gives him a tube of SPF 45 sun block and then a pair of sunglasses. Eventually Dennis comes out of the box and is taken to David’s home. Dennis still claims that he needs a weight belt to hold himself down so that the gravity of Mars won’t pull him up to the sky. While the boy’s understanding of scientific principles is clearly off the mark, he still seems to possess a knowledge that is far greater than normal to even develop these delusions. This reminds me of the stereotypical mental cases who think extraterrestrials are messing with their minds and so the wear hats made of aluminum foil to protect themselves. But they are in fact are making crude “Faraday cages” which seems to require more knowledge of electromagnetism than you would expect such people to know!

David’s sister Liz (Joan Cusack) and friend (Amanda Peet) provide David with moral support as he struggles to raise a very bright and disturbed young boy. While the movie flirts with the possibility that Dennis might really be from outer space, we never really believe that. However, his eccentric behavior gets him kicked out school. He just keeps stealing other kid’s things (also his adoptive dad’s for that matter) and his playground activity consists of hanging upside down on the jungle gym Rosie O’Donnell style. This brings Lefkowitz into the picture at a most unfortunate point leading to the obligatory committee hearing to determine if David is a fit foster parent.

Martian Child is a very sentimental movie that is right down John Cusack’s alley. Bobby Coleman played the troubled child with believability. Joan Cusack who is John’s sister in real life is very natural in that role here. While this isn’t a great movie it is a pleasant change of pace from the many good but dark dramas this fall.

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