'William': Film Review

Impossible to take seriously.
4/12/2019

Tim Disney's drama concerns the repercussions when a scientist couple creates the first Neanderthal to walk the earth in 35,000 years.

You'd think that a movie about the birth of the first Neanderthal to walk the earth in some 35,000 years would deal with some pretty important philosophical, social and scientific issues. Or at least have some fun with the idea. The new film directed and co-written by Tim Disney takes a different tack. Depicting its title character from his birth through his high school years, William attempts to get us invested in such dramatic elements as whether or not he should go to college, his considerable appetite for meat loaf and his crush on the pretty girl co-starring with him in the school musical. Amazingly, none of this is played for laughs.

William comes to life, literally, courtesy of university professors Julian and Barbara (Waleed Zuaiter and Maria Dizzia, both better than the material) who manage to extract DNA from intact Neanderthal remains discovered by Reed's scientist boss (Beth Grant). Ignoring all ethical or medical concerns, they decide to have Barbara carry the resulting embryo. Or, as she giddily proclaims, "Let's have a baby!" They are mindful, enough, however, to get properly married before they do, rushing to Las Vegas to get hitched by an Elvis impersonator.

When the baby is born, even the seen-it-all nurses are surprised by his size and features. "He's a husky little fellow," one of them says delicately, trying not to express her horror. When the university bigwigs discover what their employees have done, they're none too pleased. But their hands are tied when they learn that it's not against the law to clone a human in Nevada.

"Nevada!" one of them exclaims disgustedly, expressing feelings we've all had at one point or another.    

The teenage William is played by Will Brittain (Kong: Skull Island), who boasts the requisite powerful physique to suggest his character's ancient DNA. Outfitted with prosthetics to give him a prominent brow, he looks disconcertingly like Tom Cruise at his most intense.

Despite the exoticism of its subject matter, the film mostly comes across as domestic drama. Why screenwriters Disney (son of Roy and grand-nephew of Walt) and J.T. Allen think that the audience would be interested in Julian and Barbara's marital troubles or William's interactions with his boorish high school friends, one of whom is inordinately fond of bad puns, is anyone's guess. An unintentional comic high point is a scene where they run into a young, New Agey couple in the woods and share some 'shrooms, with the woman becoming attracted to William's old soul.

The pic's main theme seems to be that growing up as a Neanderthal inevitably leads to some pretty tough adolescent years, although William's travails don't seem all that different from your typical high school student (I've been through worse myself). Despite the occasional bullying that includes being called a "caveman," he actually seems to be doing pretty well. Especially with his burgeoning romantic relationship with his father's much younger girlfriend (Susan Park), whose tutoring doesn’t just include academic subjects.

The movie admittedly could have gone in more egregious directions, such as having William succumb to his primitive origins and become violent like Frankenstein's monster. That ultimately does happen, not in a horror film way but rather with an artsy finale, followed by a surprise twist, that strains mightily for tragedy that doesn't feel earned. Deadly earnest in its highbrow seriousness, William would seem ripe for parody, except that Encino Man got there first. 

Production company: William Productions
Distributor: Dada Films
Cast: Maria Dizzia, Will Brittain, Waleed Zuaiter, Susan Park, Callum Airie, Beth Grant, Paul Guilfoyle
Director: Tim Disney
Screenwriters: Tim Disney, J.T. Allen
Producers: Bill Haney, Jonathan DuBois, Amar Balaggan
Executive producers: Peter Newman, Bill Haney
Directors of photography: Nelson Talbot, Graham Talbot
Production designer: Daren Luc Sasges
Editor: Asim Nuraney
Composer: Craig Wedren
Costume designer: Beverley Huynh
Casting: Susie Shopmaker

102 minutes