In The Favor, the protagonist (Frank Wood) has a hot and heavy romance in his teens, and his great love goes off to college. The story picks up with him in his 40s, and we find that she dumped him shortly after they separated geographically, and married someone else. He is a good-natured but quiet, unassuming fellow, living alone with little discernible social life. Clearly she is still the biggest thing that ever happened to him. He is not currently seeing anyone, and there’s no indication he’s ever had a serious relationship with any woman since her, at least nothing that threatened her hold on first place.
He never gets back with her, but instead finds himself in a position where he has the opportunity to look after her troubled teenage son (Ryan Donowho) if he should choose to. He decides that doing so is the most loving thing he can do for her, so he takes on the responsibility.
There are definitely things about this movie that spoke to me.
I fell for the great love of my life in my early to mid twenties, and have never stopped loving her for a moment since then. Even after she married someone else and I could no longer hope specifically to get back with her, I still fantasized off and on about ways I could manifest my love for her, ways I could somehow contribute to her life even if not in the way I really wanted.
So without a doubt I know where the main character’s coming from. Because of my own life experiences, seeing someone make a grand, romantic gesture for his great love, and seeing him thereby give his own life meaning, reached me emotionally.
And I respected the way the story played out from there. I thought it was honest and realistic. Because the noble gesture thing is great for the first five minutes, but after that you’re dealing with living full time with a really messed up sixteen year old.
That’s hard enough when you’re a parent. Add to that the fact that you were strangers until a few days ago, that you have zero experience parenting, and that the already delinquent kid is coming off a major trauma, and pretty soon there’s a lot more on your mind than patting yourself on the back for being such a great guy and coming through for the great love of your life.
It certainly would be more of a feel-good movie if they appreciated each other from the start and everything was rosy, but the film is a lot more real than that. So it depicts him as rather stiff and uncertain-albeit well-meaning-in his attempts to get through to the kid and establish rules and boundaries for him. And it depicts the kid as, yes, showing occasional glimpses of humanity and a desire to care and be cared for, but mostly hell-bent on doing things that hurt himself and those around him.
He’s not a malicious, crafty villain; he’s an erratic teenager who typically has no particular reason for his screw-ups, beyond impulse. He steals, lies, uses drugs, deals drugs, skips school, and is violent. The bulk of the time he is sullen and uncommunicative with his new guardian.
I wouldn’t say the acting or the writing is top rate-it’s pretty clearly a low budget indie sort of movie-but there is that sense that in general terms they got it right, that these characters really would have trouble connecting, and it really would be a painful, difficult process trying to act as a new parent for such a kid.
One thing I didn’t like at all is that the attractive girl in whom the kid takes an interest offers perfunctory disapproval when he behaves in a particularly horrible, violent way, but soon enough invites him to have sex with her. Clearly it’s the kind of behavior she can’t formally endorse, yet gets her attention and flatters her.
I don’t know that I would say that’s a flaw in the movie though. More a flaw in human nature. One of the saddest, sickest things about human behavior is that not only is it routine for women to tolerate the worst, macho behavior in males, but all too often they reward it with their favors.
So I’m undecided how realistic or unrealistic it is in the particular circumstances of the movie, but in a general sense the phenomenon is, unfortunately, not unrealistic at all.
The movie has maybe a bit more of a hopeful, feel-good ending than is warranted by the preceding material, but not so much that it feels completely false and disappointing.
Oh, and I could have done without the clumsy attempts to have what’s taught in the high school science class match up in some symbolic way with what’s going on in the characters’ relationships.
But mostly I thought the film did a good job depicting just how awkward and uncomfortable it would be trying to communicate with and raise a troubled teen, and how damaging the consequences of his misbehavior could be. The decision to take on the responsibility out of love for this hugely important woman of one’s past spoke to my heart, and the realistic treatment of just what a struggle it would be living up to that responsibility spoke to my mind.
I didn’t love the movie, and I don’t think it does all it’s trying to do perfectly. But I respect what it tries to do, and I think it succeeds at it to a sufficient degree that it gets a clear “thumbs up” from me.
(By the way, there’s a drug dealer in the movie who I couldn’t help chuckling at because he’s so uncannily similar to Crispin Glover in movies like River’s Edge. I don’t know if it’s conscious mimicry, but it’s like Glover somehow dropped twenty years or so from his age to come back and play this part.)