Martian Child is different than what has been filling the local cinemas screens recently. The style of film which reaches into the psyche of the characters and explores the motivations which drive them, has a quality that could be used as a case study for parents and childcare givers.
Now, that doesn't mean it lacks entertainment value - it is just off beat enough to hold interest even when the action is more mental and the forces around the wounded characters arise from their perceptions of life rather than reality.
John Cusack's David, a widower for two years, is ready to take a chance not so much in a romantic relationship, although his close friend Harlee (Amanda Peet) appears ready and available if he shows interest in more than friendship. David is ready to take on the task of adopting a six-year old orphan named Dennis (Bobby Coleman). Coleman's performance demands empathy and some sympathy as he practically lives in an amazon.com cardboard box and when he smiles he has more space in his mouth than teeth. Dennis has lost his parents for an unexplained reason and he firmly believes he comes from Mars.
Dennis, though very bright, refuses to mix with other kids and he constantly hangs upside-down like a bat and we wonder if he is a genius or is he "Dennis the Menace". David is a science fiction writer and Dennis plays with technical devices many of which reflect his determined conviction that he is from the Red Planet. He even has an unusual configuration of his hand like Mr. Spock.
Refusing to bend from his identity as a Martian, Dennis' preschool teacher Sophie (Sophie Okonedo) has hope for the adoption but is aware that Dennis steals from his fellow students and can not fit in. He just won't bend to the norm. She also hints at abuse and abandonment. Joan Cusack's Liz, the sister to her real life brother John, warns him that kids keep coming at ya. She is not sure the adoption is right for either father or son.
Lucky Charms are the main stay in child's diet and he constantly uses a Polaroid camera to take pictures which he can carry back to Mars. In fact what he steals is also in his pack to carry back home, it all leads to expulsion from pre-school. When David and Dennis break dishes and spray ketchup on each other for fun there is a threat to separate the two by the social agencies.
Performances are deliberate and without flash, and that lends a feeling of reality that speaks to the rearing of children and the soothing their pain. But this is not an overly serious drama it is filled with the comedy that arises from time to time in every family as everyone grows into maturity.