'A Kid Like Jake' is well-intentioned but does not show enough of what Jake is like

Posted June 7, 2018 12:27 p.m. EDT

Well-intended but overwrought, ``A Kid Like Jake'' goes too light on the kid and too heavy on the adults around him, especially his frazzled mother, played by Claire Danes in just-about-to-lose-it mode.

Danes has a remarkable facility for relaying emotion to an audience. But this intimate relationship with Danes can be stressful for viewers, as fans of ``Homeland'' know. Danes is overly intense here as Alex, a stay-at-home Brooklyn mother with a therapist husband (Jim Parsons, a bit muted, but likable) and a 4-year-old son, Jake (Leo James Davis), who is mad about Disney princesses and prefers wearing skirts to pants.

Alex approves of however her son wishes to express himself, but grows defensive when anyone else comments about him. At its most earnest and likable, ``Jake'' presents a child's exploration of activities that do not fit traditional gender norms as natural and organic. But too much of the film consists of figurative hand-wringing and literal frowning by Danes, and there are far too many scenes in which adults talk about Jake in absentia.

Jake acted out at school. Jake became upset while his grandmother was watching him. Another child used a homophobic slur to address Jake. These moments are not show, but relayed by adults so they can wring their hands or frown.

Some of this material is too sensitive, granted, to have very young actor play it. But ``Jake'' goes too far the other way, giving us only glimpses of the boy, who emerges as more of a symbol than a real child.

The best thing ``Jake'' -- written by Daniel Pearle from his play and directed by former San Franciscan Silas Howard (``By Hook or by Crook'') -- does is impart that ``problems'' arising from Jake's gender identity are the creation of adults, reflecting their hang-ups and expectations. The worst thing it does is indulge the adults' worries in the form of cliched reactions.

Greg accuses Alex of filling their son's head with Disney fairy tales, and Alex counters that Jake might not be fond of dresses had Greg played catch with him. And you do not believe either of these progressive people, whose multicultural group of friends includes the lesbian head of Jake's pre-school (Octavia Spencer, a calming presence), would say either of these things.

A Kid Like Jake

2 STARS OUT OF 4 STARS Drama. Starring Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, Olivia Spencer. Directed by Silas Howard. (Not rated. 92 minutes).