Almost every recent festival I can think of featured at least one tear-jerking drama, and Don’t Make Me Go perfectly fits that bill. This year’s Tribeca pick charts a dad’s final week with his daughter after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer, whose only glimmer of hope is an operation with a mere 20% survival rate. John Cho (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, American Pie) and actress Mia Isaac in her film debut both bring their A-game as the father/daughter duo at the center of the action. Part coming-of-age drama, part road trip adventure, Don’t Make Me Go is yet another film begging the viewer to re-examine their life, and to live it to the fullest.
After learning of his cancer diagnosis, Max (Cho) must face the facts that if he goes through with the assigned surgery, there is a major chance he will not survive the operation. Offering to teach his rambunctious daughter, Wally (Isaac), how to drive along the way, Max commits to attending a high school reunion—and to reconnect Wally with the mother she has yet to meet. For Max and Wally, this could be their final hurrah together, so they may as well make the best of the time they are allotted. The trope about a road trip irrevocably changing those involved does indeed make an appearance. This was every bit the schmaltz-fest I had anticipated in that homestretch, but it takes an entirely long time to devolve as such.
Don’t Make Me Go is made palatable and exciting thanks largely to the talent involved. Director Hannah Marks, who made one of my favorite Tribeca films in recent years Mark, Mary & Some Other People, works with frequent This is Us scribe Vera Herbert to craft a female-charged movie about the powerful bond between a single father and his fiercely intelligent daughter. Both John Cho and Mia Isaac are excellent, selling the love between Max and Wally through their every interaction.
While I would definitely describe the finale of Don’t Make Me Go to be “happyish,” there is a warning early on thanks to the narration about how we are going to hate the ending—at least the film lives up to this promise. I didn’t feel that the conclusion lived up to the strengths of all that came before. Even if the twist has clues peppered across the runtime, it still does not necessarily feel earned. This aspect of the narrative is practically shipped in from another movie entirely, and sticks out like a sore thumb.
Don’t Make Me Go is quite good, even if it never ascends to greatness. The main road block is that it cannot seem to stick the landing—however, each time writer Vera Herbert leans into the road trip angle and familial connection, I felt myself being won over. A detour with Mitchell Hope where Wally explores a platonic friendship at a banging high school party is charming and relatable. I would recommend Don’t Make Me Go based simply on Cho and Isaac alone.
Don’t Make Me Go screened at 2022’s Tribeca Film Festival. It takes to the road in time for a release exclusively to Prime Video on Friday, July 15th.