TV Review: Netflix’s ‘American Son’ is a Lifeless Adaptation of an Acclaimed Broadway Play

AMERICAN SON

“American Son” is Netflix’s television adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway play of the same name that tells the story of an interracial couple’s search for their missing bi-racial teenage son one fateful night. This adaptation features performances from the original Broadway cast which includes Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, Jeremy Jordan and Eugene Lee, but this piece is much better suited for the stage.

Taking place one rainy night in a South Florida police station, “American Son” tells the story of the missing boy from four different viewpoints; his black mother (Kendra), his white father (Scott), a young white Deputy and a black Lt. Detective. Taking place over the course of an hour and a half and set all in the waiting room of the precinct, Kendra tries to piece together the events of the night to find out the whereabouts of her 18-year-old son.

AMERICAN SON

Dialogue heavy and restricted to one location, this adaptation feels like you’re watching a play and it doesn’t really work as a film. The dialogue is fast and oftentimes weird and makes one think that people don’t really talk in real-life like this, especially not married couples (even those going through rough patches). All of the characters seemed liked exaggerated personas and somewhat stereotypical with Kendra’s backstory and upbringing contrasted with that of her white, West Point grad, FBI agent husband.

Although very timely and relevant, “American Son” beats you over the head with the racial tension and realities of the situation. Essentially, the premise of the story is that of “Black Lives Matter” versus “Blue Lives Matter” with that debate/divide playing out through the family dynamics of an interracial family and their interaction with law enforcement. The dichotomy is even more pronounced when the African-American Lt. Stokes comes in an arrests the white father and stacks the charges, something that happens all to often with minority males when pulled over or detained for minor infractions.

The film deals with the complexities of raising bi-racial children, who often feel like they must fit into two different worlds (particular boys), in a somewhat forced manner. It is yet another added layer for the parents who have their own issues and baggage that come into play. The film tries to overtly show that the other race will never really be able to fully understand and comprehend the other. There are so many intricacies of being black in 2019. And for those who may be bi-racial, no matter how hard you try to be “white,” you can never completely whitewash yourself.

AMERICAN SON

Although telling a poignant, often-heard story, “American Son” probably would have been better off if it just stayed a stage play. In today’s society, there is definitely a need for the masses to be exposed to these differing viewpoints because it is once we start listening and seeing the world through the other’s eyes will we be able to heal and reconcile as a nation. But this adaptation was just a lifeless rehashing that lacked the passion and emotion that it may have exuded on the stage.

“American Son” premieres on Netflix on November 1st. 

GRADE: (★★½)

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