Alex (Claire Danes ) and Greg ( Jim Parsons) are an ultra-liberal Brooklyn married couple whose lives completely revolve around their gifted son Jake ( Leo James Davis ). He’s now at the age where he needs to leave pre-school and join a kindergarten class, which given both the competitive system to gain on the very limited places and the prohibitively expensive costs of the city’s private schools, makes for a very stressful time.
Both Alex an ex Lawyer and now a stay-at-home mother and Greg a Therapist, have always been supportive of Jake’s desires and interests and as such have always avoided giving him gender-specific toys. They are more than happy to allow his preference for dolls and encouraging him pretending to be a princess and constantly watch The Little Mermaid and Cinderella at least in the privacy of their own home.
However when Judy (Octavia Spencer ) the lesbian principal of the Pre-School who is also a personal friend of the couple, suggests that they only way they can hope to qualify for the crucial scholarship is that they emphasise his ‘gender nonconforming’. Alex, who is in complete denial of Jake’s marked differences takes particular umbrage when Judy and others constantly refer to the phrase ‘a kid like Jake’ as if he is now a specific type.
Greg slowly becomes more open to the idea that Jake’s ‘feminine side’ may be something more deeper and his way of dealing with his gender dysphoria but feels unable to discuss it with his son because of his age, or with Alex because of her steadfast refusal to accept any suggestions that this could be the real reason for his very marked preferences. This all comes to a head when Alex who had just discovered she was pregnant again and is very distraught to have a miscarriage at the same she is battling with the concept that none of the schools will end up accepting Jake.
A Kid Like Jake is rather beautifully directed by trans filmmaker Silas Howard (who also directed some episodes of Transparent) from a script by Daniel Peale that was based on his successful stage play of the same name. Howard takes a very balanced view of Alex and Greg’s dilemma, and in fact, is extremely careful to be non-judgemental of Alex who is the only one in the drama who insists that Jake is just through a phase. He also very interestingly gives voice to Greg’s concern that as an effete man and father, he may have been a contributing factor to the way his son is.
If anything there is possibly a little too much chest beating at times, and some of the secondary plot lines such as Alex’s sessions with a soon-to-be-divorced patient were an unnecessary addition. However, it was the very convincing and sensitive performances of both Daines and Parsons that compelling held your attention. And it goes without saying that Spencer’s contribution as the patient school principal was to her usual wonderfully high standard.
Among the impressive supporting roles, the veteran actress Ann Dowd was so spot on as Alex’s no-nonsense-pull-yourself-together mum.
A Kid Like Jake makes a very important contribution to the continuing dialogue about gender conformity and the transgender community in such a positive and thoughtful way and should be put on your not-to-be-missed list.