Sarah Paulson can do no wrong. The actress—seemingly everywhere lately—has steadily become one of Hollywood’s most reliable thespians.
With any other performer headlining Run, it would surely not have the same mettle that it possesses, even if the story is one that we have seen before.
Joining her in the stellar performance department is Kiera Allen. What she accomplishes with her turn as Chloe Sherman, the 17-year-old daughter to Paulson’s Diane Sherman, is the sort of talent announcement that Hollywood history will look back on as the moment when her career took off.
We meet the Sherman matriarch in Aneesh Chaganty’s film in the opening moments as she welcomes a child into the world that is clearly a preemie. Without any exposition needed, viewers keenly know the uphill battle that lies ahead for Diane’s little girl.
So, when we discover her as a wickedly intelligent, aspirational later-aged teenager with sights on getting admitted to the University of Washington, her landscape is hardly a shock.
Chloe is confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, and homeschooled by her mother due to the litany of ailments she possesses.
She never once lets those hold her back. In fact, she is about as driven as a cinematic teen could be and not simply book smart. Chloe is gifted with being highly tech-savvy, from robotic creations to a passion for physics and astronomy that is easy to see this kid is going places.
Despite having applied to numerous colleges, Chloe starts to get concerned as she has not heard a peep from them. Her mother promises that her daughter will have the honor of opening all the mail that is university-related. Yet, there is no news.
Things truly start to unravel in the Sherman home when Chloe discovers a new medication in the grocery bag that she was likely not supposed to see.
The script was written for her mother, but when the pill shows up in her nightly medication from dear old mom, bells start going off in Chloe’s head.
The key to any film like Run is not learning too much of the plot, so this is where I leave you in that department. It’s going to be a challenge to get into the nitty-gritty about specifically why this film works (or doesn’t) without details, but this will be fun.
First of all, Paulson has crafted a character with Diane who will go down right alongside some of cinema’s other salacious mommas, such as Mommie Dearest. Where Joan Crawford had control issues, Diane has problems of another kind.
What she puts her daughter through may not be wire hangers to the back, but they are equally as endangering to a child’s wellbeing, both physical and mental.
The actress has the most extraordinary of gifts. Just this year alone, she has produced a series of work that is unmatched by any other actress in 2020.
First, there was her uncanny embodying of Alice Macray in Mrs. America, who passively and powerfully followed Cate Blanchett’s conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly—who successfully led the effort to kill the Equal Rights Amendment.
Then, Paulson gave us the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest origins story we didn’t know we needed—Ratched.
The highly lauded actress commanded major intensity with her take on the role that Louise Fletcher originated in the 1975 Oscar-winning classic (that resulted in her scoring an Academy Award for the part).
Now, she gives us Diane Sherman in Run, a mother whose idea of maternal love involves not raising a child to be empowered to leave the nest, but just the opposite.
The part could have been a thankless, movie-long straddling of protagonist and antagonist, but in the hands of Paulson, it is a clinic on the art of thespian majesty.
Matching her note-for-note is Allen. She makes the most impressive of screen debuts opposite an actress who has been setting the world afire and has been since the ’90s.
We pull for Chloe in every possible way, short of diving into the movie itself. So much of the suspense in Run is achieved through the daughter trying to solve a mystery without the source of the mysteriousness discovering what she’s doing.
The young actress achieves something extraordinary with the effort and that is her execution of every facet of the actor’s toolbox. Ask any performer and they’ll tell you that every inch of their body is an enormous part of any portrayal.
Everything she does is within the constraints of a wheelchair. That could limit a less gifted young performer, but not Allen.
When she is crawling across the floor, racing against time, it is all in her face how the strain is wearing on her entire existence. Oh, did we mention that she also has asthma?
Chloe has limitations up and down the character pike, but not one ounce of emotive power is ever sacrificed because of her physical restrictions.
Writer-director Chaganty (who co-wrote the script with Sev Ohanian) gave us 2018’s gift that was Searching. He and Ohanian penned a film that existed solely within the confines of social media.
It wasn’t a “found footage movie,” but everything the viewer “saw” was via a laptop camera, a cell phone camera… you get the picture. But at the heart of Searching (starring John Cho), it was a story about a parent and a child whose relationship was hardly what it seemed.
The duo sure like that arena of storytelling. It’s just with Run, it is in the form of something we have seen before on multiple fronts.
There was an entire film devoted to it, masked as a YA romance, with 2017’s Everything, Everything. That starred Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson as our aspiring lovebirds who try to make their teen love affair work, despite Stenberg’s “girl in the bubble” ailments.
Also, Run is a title that misses the mark. Given that HBO had a series this year that shared that moniker (that was since canceled, to my dismay!), perhaps it might have been better to go with another title.
Thing is, Chloe, inherently, never does any running for obvious reasons. There is the metaphorical “run” aspect, but that doesn’t quite work either—given what occurs over the course of the film.
We are vested in Chloe’s journey. That much can be saluted. Then there are the stellar performances from the two leads. Don’t be surprised if one talks to the screen on a few occasions, yes, it is that kind of thrill ride, which can be fun for some.
The issue with Run is that it is one of those thrillers that when we get to the conclusion, viewers may look back and wonder why they chose to Run.
Run is currently available to watch on Hulu.
Joel D. Amos is the Senior Editor of The Movie Mensch and writes film reviews for TV Fanatic. He has been an entertainment journalist for two decades now, focusing on penning reviews for film, television and streaming content of all kinds. He also has conducted hundreds of interviews with stars as varied as Harrison Ford to Elton John and Angelina Jolie. Joel is a founding member of the Hollywood Critics Association and in his free time, is all about his family.