Claire Danes and Jim Parsons Are Parents Wrestling With Gender Identity in ‘A Kid Like Jake’

In the timely IFC drama “A Kid Like Jake,” Claire Danes and Jim Parsons star as a couple grappling with their four-year-old son’s (Leo James Davis) gender nonconformity. Little Jake has an affinity for Disney Princesses and making toilet paper skirts, but his parents, attorney-turned-homemaker Alex (Danes) and therapist Greg Wheeler (Parsons) do not give much thought to their son’s “gender expansiveness,” that is, until it comes time to submit his applications for school. With their local Brooklyn public school being overcrowded, the Wheelers are eager for their child to secure a spot at one of the competitive NYC private educational institutions. Finances are an issue, but director of Jake’s preschool, Judy (Octavia Spencer), gives the couple hope by assuring them that their son is an ideal candidate for a scholarship. It is also Judy who suggests that the Wheelers emphasize Jake’s gender nonconformity in the application essays, and thus begins a debate between Alex and Greg regarding whether their son’s behavior is just a phase or an indicator of his possibly being transgender.

What “A Kid Like Jake” does well is shed light on the plight of the modern parent. Alex often finds herself being pushed to the limit trying to be the best mother she can be. It’s a battle of the generations with her second-wave feminist mother, Catherine (Ann Dowd), who more than once makes clear her disappointment in her daughter’s sacrificing her career, while also showing her dismay in her grandson’s wardrobe choices. Also highlighted is the pervasiveness of prejudice; even in a place as progressive as Brooklyn, Jake has trouble finding acceptance. At his own birthday party, another child calls him a “flag,” and it’s heartbreaking to watch, as even though Alex and Greg disagree about a lot (Greg is more open to the possibility of Jake being trans), they both, at the end of the day, really want what all parents what, and that is for their child to be accepted. Throw in a high-risk pregnancy, and the couple nearly find their marriage at a breaking point. Danes and Parsons bring out the best in each other with their performances, with Parsons especially showing a side of himself audiences have yet to see before.

Even though his name is in the title, Jake is often absent for long periods of time. Instead, the majority of the film is devoted to the adults having discussion after discussion. Pivotal moments, including the Jake “blowing” a school interview by having a skirmish with a boy who teases him, are shown offscreen and discussed by the Greg and Alex after the fact. Originally a play (writer Daniel Pearle adapted his work for the big screen), it makes a sense that the film would be dialogue-heavy, but opportunity is missed by keeping Jake in the background.

A Kid Like Jake” opens June 1 in New York and June 8 in Los Angeles and VOD.