Why Do Mega-Budget Movie Directors Make Small Films About Kids?

Posted on April 19, 2017 at 8:00 am

On Vulture, Kyle Buchanan has a fascinating column about three directors who took time off between blockbusters to make remarkably similar small budget films about gifted kids and their single parents. It is well worth reading in full.

Take “Gifted,” this week’s dramedy about a precocious child and the overwhelmed uncle (Chris Evans) who serves as her single parent. It’s directed by Marc Webb, who made the last two Amazing Spider-Man movies, but it’s not to be confused with June’s The Book of Henry, about another child genius and his single parent (Naomi Watts), which director Colin Trevorrow squeezed in between “Jurassic World” and his upcoming production of “Star Wars: Episode IX.” With his schedule so packed, Trevorrow had to abdicate the director’s chair on Jurassic World 2, a gig that went to spectacle-seller Juan Antonio Bayona … who just released his own precocious-child/single-parent movie, “A Monster Calls,” this past December….What’s prompting these similar small movies? To some degree, I expect the directors are treating them as penance: After you’ve neglected your family to fly around the world working on a giant blockbuster, what better way to work out your issues than with a film about a distracted parent reconnecting with a special child? That’s part of the reason that after directing two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau made the much smaller Chef, where he stars as a single father who quits his fancy restaurant job to start paying attention to his precocious preteen. At the end of their cross-country adventure together, Favreau’s character goes back into the restaurant business a better man who’s informed by the time he’s spent with his son; so, too, has Favreau returned to tentpole filmmaking after his gap-year movie, only now he’s directing films like The Jungle Book and The Lion King that are explicitly made for families.

But I suspect there’s more to this trend than just personal catharsis. For as much as these directors think they’re trading one mode of filmmaking for another, in a way, they’re just toggling between two influential blockbusters: Instead of making Star Wars (literally, in Trevorrow’s case), they’re making E.T.

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