Some films are built on relationships, and some are built on moments. In Amazon Prime’s latest original feature from director Hannah Marks however, the story is very much built on both.
‘Don’t Make Me Go’ stars John Cho (‘Cowboy Bebop’) and Mia Isaac, who is making her feature film debut in the movie—although you wouldn’t have initially guessed that from seeing her compelling performance. As Wally, Isaac starts the film off as a normal teenager living with her single dad Max (Cho), and their relationship is built on more silence and surface conversations at the start. That all changes however when Max is diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain tumor, and he takes his 16-year old daughter on the road to meet her estranged mother and to learn a bit more about the world along the way.
“There were instances of various similitude for me in my life—I’m a father and a father to a daughter,” explains Cho when asked about taking on the role. “I grew up with an authoritarian type of parent situation another generation back…so this relationship, this more intimate relationship that Max and Wally have, was closer to the one that I’m cultivating with my children. It felt familiar and a very compelling story and circumstance. Hannah [Marks] was also just a really convincing director and really talented, smart and insightful. I just thought, I think this is going to be a winner.”
Marks as a director also took a keen look at the central relationship that makes up ‘Don’t Make Me Go’ when looking for a new project.
“The father-daughter relationship felt really unique yet still universal and relatable to everyone,” Marks explains. “It was full of heart and authenticity, which was clear immediately because Vera Herbert really wrote this as a tribute to her own father and took a lot of her own personal experiences and put it into the story. I could tell there was a lot of love behind this from the start, and that really drew me in.”
Parental relationships are a central theme in many stories, both on the screen and not. And although dynamics of familial bonds can be dubbed a tale as old as time, both Wally and Max go through the unique experience of hitting the road together without really knowing much about the other. And the mileage makes up for the missing pieces.
“At the beginning of the movie, Wally is at a point where she’s less focused on her relationship with her dad. I think she could care less about that…the things she cares most about are boys, and whatever is on her phone,” Isaac explains of her first role.
“I think she’s in this place of disconnect with Max, and she’s trying to make her own and be on her own and she doesn’t really want to be a kid anymore. What is interesting about her journey over the course of this movie though, is that she learns that she doesn’t get that much time with her father and she should spend the time that she has with him. I love that they get closer and learn a lot about each other over the course of the movie.”
Teenagers are typically at a point in their lives where they need to individuate. But even at 16 years old, Wally has a lot to teach Max, who in turn gets through some of his own issues by spending time with his daughter. And through directing, Marks wanted to throw the focus on that dynamic.
“I think this movie is not just about what a parent can teach their child, but also what a child can teach their parent,” the director explains. “That’s what I love about it…just because Max isn’t a teenager doesn’t mean that he can’t have his own coming-of-age moment where he learns and he grows. So, I think it’s really about keeping an open mind and listening to each other and trusting other people that we love to realize that someone might know more than us and it doesn’t matter their age.”
Marks knew how to grasp those monumental moments during ‘Don’t Make Me Go,’ and even though they weren’t mighty in size, they began adding up. Whether it was an instance in a jazz club where Max and Wally embrace, or at a karaoke venue where Wally sees her father as more than just a parent for likely the first time. And previously working as an actor herself, Marks gave her attention to Cho, Isaac and the cast.
“I have to assume that Hannah being an actor was protective of our space and wanted to give us the chance to do our best work,” Cho explains. “Hannah is very sharp and she certainly on a practical level knew how to get improv out of us and knew how to take care of actors. Especially on an independent film when you don’t have as much time as you like and the budget you dreamed of.”
Isaac, as a newbie in Tinsel Town, also felt the same sentiments about Marks (who is 29 by the way.)
“Hannah made it very clear from the beginning that her focus was on the acting and the performance. For this being my first role, I was really grateful that she was so supportive,” Isaac notes.
It’s the moments that make up the magic in ‘Don’t Make Me Go,” but it’s the characters and their relationship that truly drive the emotion. Although there have been many road-trip films and surely more to come, when you take in the concept of time, or, lack thereof in this instance, it does put life into a different focus.
Both Cho and Isaac agree that the making of the film mirrored what was happening in the script. Whether it came down to finding out more info about personal lives, music tastes or the nitty-gritty emotional side of life. It’s also the catalyst of what drove Marks to make this film, and one that will resonate with audiences universally no matter how much time is on your side.
“That is what is interesting about a road movie…it forces people to talk to each other— you kind of have to, you’re stuck in the same space. So much of Max and Wally’s relationship is unspoken, there’s a lot they don’t tell each other and I love that that environment was forcing them to talk honestly with each other for the first time,” Marks finishes. “And everything Wally says in the movie about living your life to the fullest and taking risks and following your dreams and all of those things that sound cliché… but they’re cliché because they are true. We have one life so, YOLO I suppose.”
‘Don’t Make Me Go‘ drops on Amazon Prime July 15th