Review: ‘Parallel Sons’

Rife with good intentions and noble thoughts, "Parallel Sons" falls short of its dramatic quotient with an awkwardly constructed narrative and ill-defined characterizations. A racial fish-out-of-water tale, it plays more like a classroom discussion-starter than theatrical fodder. Its best prospects are on the small screen, where its reliance on melodrama will be less obvious and production limitations muted.

Rife with good intentions and noble thoughts, “Parallel Sons” falls short of its dramatic quotient with an awkwardly constructed narrative and ill-defined characterizations. A racial fish-out-of-water tale, it plays more like a classroom discussion-starter than theatrical fodder. Its best prospects are on the small screen, where its reliance on melodrama will be less obvious and production limitations muted.

Seth Carlson (Gabriel Mick) is fresh out of high school, waiting tables in a diner in his small upstate New York farming community. He’d really rather be studying art in Manhattan, but his father refuses to accept an educational loan. So, Seth has adopted what he perceives as an artist’s demeanor. He sports dreadlocks, listens to rap and dresses like a brother. In his heart, he identifies with the black man.

Circumstance brings him closer to the African-American community when an escaped prisoner (Laurence Mason) wielding a gun holds him up after closing time. But before the robber can get to the door, he collapses from exhaustion and massive blood loss from a wound. Seizing the opportunity, Seth takes the unconscious man to a remote shed on the family plot and ministers to him.

From the start, “Parallel Sons” appears to be on shaky ground. The fantastical premise that propels the plot is relayed straight-faced as if there was neither humor nor absurdity in the situation.

Initially, the escapee, Knowledge Johnson, is hostile to his unexpected benefactor. He’s first suspicious of the act of kindness, and then aghast at the mock emulation of black culture. But a dialogue begins and barriers begin to come down.

Writer/director John G. Young would have been better off keeping his story simple. Instead, he ladles on improbabilities and strives for a spectacular ending that proves to be unintentionally funny. He also complicates the tale with a subplot involving a homosexual attraction between the young men that is ill-defined and cumbersome.

Tech credits are professional, with a modest nod to the postcard prettiness of the Adirondack Mountain locations. Mason is the most commanding screen presence in pic, and overall acting work is low-key and earnest. The sum total ranks low on the commercial scale but suggests a budding talent in need of more batting practice to get into the swing of dramatic cinema.

Parallel Sons

Production

A Black Brook Films presentation. Produced by James Spione, Nancy Larsen. Directed, written by John G. Young.

Crew

Camera (color), Matthew Howe; editors, Young , Spione; music, E.D. Menasche; production design, Cindi Sfinas; costume design, Leonardo Iturregui; sound, Harrison Williams; assistant director, Wendy Jo Cohen; casting, Kathleen Chopin. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Park City, Jan. 24, 1995. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Seth Carlson - Gabriel Mick
Knowledge Johnson - Laurence Mason
Sheriff Mott - Murphy Guyer
Peter Carlson - Graham Alex Johnson
Kristen Mott - Heather Gottlieb
Francine - Maureen Shannon
Marty - Josh Hopkins
Sally Carlson - Julia Weldon
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