The father-daughter road trip film, “Don’t Make Me Go,” is a touching look at two people being torn apart because of teenage angst and troubling secrets. We’re told at the beginning, “You’re not going to like the way this story ends, but I think you’re going to like this story.” A father, Max Park (John Cho), and daughter, Wally (Mia Isaac), go on a road trip, but the first we see of it is when they end up on a beach with rolling waves and seagulls and naked people.
There is full frontal nudity–male and female–but it isn’t gratuitous in the sense that these aren’t glamorously or erotically shot. Wally (short for Wallis) asks her father, “What is wrong with you; you brought us to a freaking nude beach. I don’t need to be further scarred by this day.” Max responds by saying he just did a quick search for the nearest beach. Somehow, I think these types of beaches in the US give you more warning before you get on the sand, but I’ve never actually been to the one in Southern California.
Then we back up a few weeks to see how they got here. Max is a single father in a nine-to-five job selling insurance in California who is experience debilitating headaches and we’re not talking about his daughter’s headstrong ways. She’s interested in a soccer player named Glenn (Otis Dhanji). Glenn and Wally aren’t official. Wally’s BFF Sandra (Stefania LaVie Owen) advises her to send a nip pic to solidify her hold on Glenn.
To help his team out, she volunteers to be goalie because he says, “He’ll make it worth her while.” And that means is a kiss so good it makes her swoon and pass out on the ground. To celebrate their victory, Glenn and his teammates are going to have a party at his house and, you guessed it, his parents are out of town. Bestie Sandra will be at her cousin’s but she’s willing to drive Wally over to the house party and Wally tells her father she’s sleeping over Sandra’s house.
Wally ends up in Glenn’s room and despite Glenn’s assurance that he has condoms, she decides to leave. She calls Tami, Sandra’s mother, but Tami calls Max. Max has been spending the evening with his bootie-call buddy Annie (Kaya Scodelario).
Back at home, Max grounds Wally for the rest of the summer break. Soon after, he learns he has cancer, a cordoma which is a slow-growing tumor at the base of his skull. Although there is an operation, there is a low chance of survival. He’s more concerned about the future of his daughter Wally. Max only confides with Annie and tells her he can’t risk having the surgery. He has no brothers or sisters and his parents are gone. Before he dies, he wants Wally to meet her mom. His actress wife Nicole (Jen Van Epps) left him for his best friend Dale Angelo (Jemaine Clement). Nicole and Dale are married. The phone number he finds for Nicole has been disconnected, but through social media, Max learns that Dale (plus one) will be attending a reunion at New Orleans College. Max’s friend Guy Connelly (Josh Thomson) is encouraging Max to attend.
So now, the road trip plans are made. Wally gets a perk of learning how to drive on the wide open roads. I have not driven from California to New Orleans, but I have driven from California to Louisiana. It’s an interesting trip through different kind of landscapes. I’d be hesitant to do it now as I was during the Trump administration because of my ethnicity. Their ethnicity never comes up and that is odd. Nicole is African American.
Max wants to talk about college which is just two years away. Wally isn’t ready. Max tells her, “Wally, you are smart. You can’t throw away your future. You have your whole life to travel.”
But Wally thinks that her father has always played it safe, but she doesn’t say that. She says, “People who play it safe when they’re young, play it safe their whole lives.” Max soon learns that Wally is too needy in her relationship with Glenn. Max and Wally will have some small adventures as he tries to teach about things like gambling, driving and love relationships. He tells her, “A good man will take you dancing.”
That hit me where it counts. My father took my siblings and mother on one last vacation after he learned he had a terminal illness. He did teach me something about gambling. He did teach me about kindness. But he never saw my sister and I married. We never danced and he never saw me dancing.
“Don’t Make Me Go” isn’t as deep and layered as the recent film “Drive My Car” which isn’t about a father-daughter relationship. This isn’t as funny as “Little Miss Sunshine” or Kevin Hart’s “Fatherhood.” The humor in “Don’t Make Me Go” is low-key, helping to keep our focus on the bittersweet relationship between Max and Wally.
The ending definitely surprised me, which is a good thing.
Director Hannah Marks shows sensitivity and there’s nothing gratuitous in how this is filmed. You might recognize her name from the quickly “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” where she played Amanda Brotzman, a woman who had hallucinations and had withdrawn from the world. Writer Vera Herbert wrote nine episodes of one of my favorite TV series, “This Is Us.” Of course, with a TV series, there’s more room for character development.
In an interview, I heard that the Herbert’s father died before she graduated from high school. Because of this, she wrote this story with wistful thoughts of things she never got to do with her father. My father died when I was in middle school and, even without knowing about Herbert’s past, I felt my own heartbreak watching this film. Last year I lost my mother and with whom I never had a good relationship with, but I am glad I was able to bid her good-bye.
“Don’t Make Me Go” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2022. It is now available for streaming on Prime Video. “Don’t Make Me Go” was aware the Truly Moving Picture Award at this year’s Heartland Film.