It’s never easy tackling sensitive topics like autism in media. While some have explored the honest side of how it affects people and families, like Amazon’s As We See It, others tend to veer off into very stereotypical territory. Sadly, Planet 9 Productions’ latest film Tyson’s Run falls into the latter category. A story about a 15-year old boy with autism, who finds the passion to run a marathon while also finding a way to mend his family. While there’s a heartwarming story of a broken family bonding once again at its core, the film is distractingly unfocused in a world without consequence that leads to an unsatisfying payoff.
There will be spoilers in this review. So, if you want to watch the film spoiler-free, only continue at your own risk.
It’s odd to say, but there are so many moments in this film where I couldn’t pinpoint where it fits into the overarching narrative. The Kim Bass-directed project has a very straightforward story set out from the beginning but has an issue with weaving every story beat cohesively. It’s trying to sell a lot of moments as a sporadic character action, but it happens for the sake of happening. There’s no real natural lead into Major Dodson‘s Tyson wanting to run a marathon, which is the grand finale of the story.
He only gets into running once he sees Barkhad Abdi‘s Akilu randomly showing up in the background while he’s helping his dad. We don’t meet this character or get any teases in advance. Tyson then just suddenly runs alongside him, which is played off as part of his autism but there’s never a hint or slow build-up that eases the viewer into seeing his interest in that topic. For all we know, he just really wants to learn algebra. Glances or stares at the marathon, seeing people run in the background to build a rapport for the character would help ease viewers into the idea and make it a stronger moment, but it’s just there.
The biggest issue I have with this film is that there is a complete absence of consequence. Even handling a sensitive topic like autism, the actions characters take would still have some kind of effect on their environment, something a show like As We See It handled very well. Yet, in this film, Tyson starts running away at random points. There’s a massive storm, flood warnings, and after overhearing his parent’s fight, he runs off. Now, that makes for drama and there’s a reason why he does it, but later on, we learn it was just him running to see how far he can do it in the rain. No one’s mad at him for running off–for the second time mind you, especially after almost drowning.
No, I am not kidding, he randomly gets trapped under a branch. Still not sure how that happened. The spot he’s at is getting flooded and if his dad (Rory Cochrane) didn’t find him he’d have drowned. Actually, his father also gets injured in the process. So, if Akilu also didn’t somehow find his way to the same location after Tyson’s mother (Amy Smart) asks for his help after meeting him once, they’d both be dead. We spend so much time on the hunt for this kid that it’s full of unnecessary scenes. We meet a cop, he catches up with the dad with a team so that they go through the woods. Yet, no joke, one of them randomly gets bitten by a snake so that the father is alone again in the woods.
Somehow, Tyson running away only makes the family stronger without anyone getting mad at him. Both parents are hinted at having some massive weights on their shoulders, their marriage is on the brink and now he realizes he should spend some time with his family. What just drags an actual heartfelt moment down, is that Tyson shows absolutely no remorse, learns nothing from the event and the film doesn’t try to grow him as a character. There was such a disconnect to the rest; they’ve could’ve just cut chunks of this sequence out and the film would’ve actually benefitted.
There are moments where the acting is very over-the-top which just adds to that disconnect. Smart‘s approach to being mad is mostly awkward yelling, and Cochrane‘s Coach is the epitome of a cliché football coach. You can tell Dodson cared about the role and is trying to make it more than just a cliché but the lack of actual character development just takes away any nuance it could’ve had. We get to a point when he suddenly has a girlfriend, but we’ve only spent like three scenes with her. It’s a sweet moment but we don’t spend time with how that affects him. He just ends up having a girlfriend and nothing is done with it. We even have a bully character who literally laughs at him while pointing like a cartoon character and he never learns his lesson. One guy stands up to him, and he’s never seen again.
Speaking of a bully, on top of all of it, we randomly get a villain moment with Reno Wilson’s mayor near the end of the film. And again, there’s no payoff or consequence to him threatening Tyson’s dad. The only thing that happens is a sudden has big reveal that is swiftly solved minutes later by Tyson. It just makes you wonder why no one in this family thinks to lock their kid’s window, especially if he has a tendency to run away constantly. It highlights the problem that Tyson is a plot device and not a character. It is a disservice to a story exploring the topic of autism and the challenge for families that deal with it daily.
It’s all perfectly encapsulated in the titular run of Tyson’s Run. We have news reporters that are there to explain word-for-word what we know, or even explain running terms in the most obvious exposition I’ve ever witnessed in a film. There’s such a perfect bow on everything that it just adds to the fact that everything comes together as it needs to be. Without any consequences, no one changes by the end of the story outside of the workaholic dad spending time with his family. There’s not even a consequence to him just ditching his job randomly. The film has good intentions, but it really doesn’t know how to bring it all together.