Zen McGrath, Laura Dern and Hugh Jackman in The Son.

This is one of the most painfully bad emotional slogs to hit movie screens in recent memory.

Like The Whale before it, The Son is another play adapted to film in which the melodrama does not work on the big screen. Moments of supposed emotional heft are laughably off, making good actors like Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern and Vanessa Kirby look bad.

The main problem is the misdirected script, badly handled by Florian Zeller (who also directed The Father, which was very good). Zeller hits all the wrong notes in what amounts to a major, miserable misfire.

It doesn’t help that Zen McGrath, as Nicholas, the “son,” is just plain awful in the role. There’s no soft-shoeing it: He is not good in this movie.

Jackman plays Peter, a successful businessman raising an infant son with his second wife, Beth (Kirby). First wife Kate (Dern) shows up at the door, begging Peter to have a talk with their troubled son, Nicholas. Nicholas, as it turns out, wants to live with his dad. The arrangements are made, and the depressed teenager moves in.

What follows involves some of the dumbest characters to hit screens in recent years, doing gloomy, miserable, depressing things. The film wants to be a statement on depression, but it handles the subject pathetically. Nothing in this movie feels right, and nothing that happens is surprising.

I suppose The Son is a well-meaning movie. Bless its well-meaning heart … but it still stinks to high heaven. Avoid at all costs.

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