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A Boy Called Po (2017) Review

Heartfelt story about a boy with autism and the father who loves him.

A Boy Called Po is a 2017 drama about a man who is left a single working dad with the sole responsibility of caring for his sixth grade son with autism.

Autism in movies have been on a long steady arc, most probably familiar with Barry Levinson‘s Rain Man though a number of movies in recent years have taken to make them much smaller and more local and less prodigy-driven, keeping them a bit more realistic. John Asher‘s A Boy Called Po is certainly a highly-personal project, even as it over-extends itself in the end. It’s difficult to not look at it with sympathetic eyes and merit its intentions to educate and influence while still recognizing its flaws.

It starts with a funeral as engineer David Wilson (Christopher Gorham) buries his young wife. In his care is Po (Julian Feder), their eleven-year-old son who is autistic and unclear what is happening. He attends classes but mostly doodles and keeps to himself, though is bullied of course by some and attended to by others. Challenges arise as David struggles to balance his high-pressure job as he works on an innovative new concept that could revolutionize the airline industry while trying to tend to Po’s ever-increasing needs, which brings child services into the equation. Meanwhile, a beautiful therapist named Amy (Kaitlin Doubleday) comes to be a source of comfort.

There is no doubting Asher’s sincerity in bringing A Boy Called Po to screen. Many moments, especially the private ones between David and his son represent the most heart in the story. It’s not easy to raise the boy, who is never quite sure where his mother went, and escapes into fantasy, living out adventures with fictional characters (all played by Andrew Bowen). We see real hurdles and these domestic moments offer the most dramatic and impactful of the film. Po regresses as time passes, finding time in his daydreams more comforting than with others. He is befriended by Amelia (Caitlin Carmichael), a girl his age at school, who helps him escape the constant abuse of the bully (Tristian Chase), who never ever, ever lets up. 

A Boy Called Po
A Boy Called Po, 2017 © Commonwealth Film Manufacturing

The film loses its way in the subplot of David’s plane and impending job loss, the parallels between the project and Po a little too on the nose. The movie is structured to hit hard and be as in-your-face as possible and not just push buttons but stomp all over them. It often lands in authenticity but much more, it stretches credibility to deliver a sometimes manipulative story that depends on a series of contrivances to keep layering hardships on David. All of that does weaken to a degree parts of the story but the other side of the coin is how earnest Asher works to keep A Boy Called Po true, making it feel sometimes like a very emotional documentary.

Noteworthy in all this is the score by none other than the legendary Burt Bacharach, who delivers a touching musical tone to the story, much of it based on a theme of his classic (They Long To Be) Close To You, which is heard at the start of the movie. It’s a nice touch without being too sentimental. It’s hard not to be moved, knowing how real all of this is for so many and Asher often succeeds in earning our emotional commitment even as it embraces a traditional happy ending. Many in the production, including Asher, have children with autism (the film is dedicated to him and others) and knowing that certainly lends some weight and as a message about their lives, A Boy Called Po does its job.

A Boy Called Po (2017) Review

Movie description: A Boy Called Po is a 2017 drama about a man who is left a single working dad with the sole responsibility of caring for his sixth grade son with autism.

Director(s): John Asher

Actor(s): Christopher Gorham, Julian Feder, Kaitlin Doubleday

Genre: Drama

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