If you have never had a youngster who fixated on a particular fantasy, this film may be somewhat difficult for you to relate to. I however, instantly appreciated the situation depicted in Martian Child because one of my own kids went through a phase where he insisted he was from Saturn.
The movie begins with David (John Cusack), a widower and writer living alone in his trendy LA home. His sister Liz (Joan Cusack, the real-life sister of John) desperately wants him to have something besides just work in his life. So does his friend Sophie (Sophie Okeonedo), who conveniently operates a foster home.
Amongst Sophie's many charges is Dennis (Bobby Colman), a little tike who believes he is from Mars and spends his days inside a cardboard box so the bright sunlight on Earth won't fry him faster than a Star Trek phaser. Needless to say David isn't certain the little boy within the corrugated walls is someone he wants to spend the rest of his life caring for. But after some contemplation and discussions with his sister Liz, the science fiction author decides maybe he is a better match than most for the young alien. With this in mind David returns for another visit, this time bearing a gift -- a tube of sunscreen.
Eventually the boy in the box becomes comfortable enough to venture into trying a new life for a few days. Still, he insists on some ground rules, including a regimented diet of Lucky Charms and permission to continue wearing his gravity belt to keep from floating away. He cites the need for the latter by explaining that's how he was separated from his last parents.
Closely monitoring the new trial relationship is Mr. Lefkowitz (Richard Schiff), a cynical social worker who drops into David's home unannounced to see if disaster is imminent -- arriving at such times like the moment David encourages Dennis to explore his grief and anger by throwing food around the kitchen. As the days pass, the sacrifices made by this father-in-wanting help to form closer bonds between himself and the mini-Martian, and set up the script for the ultimate battle between a soft-hearted widower and a hard-hearted state bureaucracy.
Based on the biographical book authored by sci-fi writer David Gerrold about his own experience adopting his son Sean, this sentimental film makes a strong statement about giving challenged children a loving environment in which to grow. Unfortunately, it does suffer from a somewhat formulaic plot with a clearly mapped out finish. As well, it vacillates between feeling like a kid-oriented comedy and an adult drama. Full of dialogue-heavy scenes punctuated by a suicide attempt and some other perilous moments, the movie is difficult to recommend for young viewers.
Yet the real David (whose son Sean is now an adult) says he felt the production and Cusack's performance were so authentic that (quoting his own words from his website www.gerrold.com) it "was practically an invasion of my privacy." He also hopes the movie may encourage others to consider the possibility of adopting. With such motives perhaps some of the stereotypes and cliches can be forgiven, and the focus placed instead on the story's intent to reveal the out-of-this-world rewards of parenthood.