The Other Tom

Elena ( Julia Chávez) is an exhausted single mother, working overtime to provide the necessities, constantly pleading with son Tom for peace and quiet. Tom (Israel Rodríguez Bertorelli) is not a peace and quiet kind of kid, his lack of focus an even bigger problem at school than at home. At first, the ADHD meds seem like a godsend. Tom is more focused, better behaved. But an accident makes Elena aware of some pretty significant side effects, and she ultimately decides to stop the meds.

Elena is surprised to learn that the choice to medicate her son or not may not be hers. Between the disapproving doctor who won’t consider non-medical interventions, and the school who doesn’t want to deal with an unmedicated Tom, social services are called in, and Elena’s custody is threatened.

Inevitably, a movie like this serves as an indictment of our over-prescribed culture, but The Other Tom is also a mother-son story at its heart. Tom is just a little boy struggling to fit in. He doesn’t want to be bad, but he’s restless and angry, lonesome for his estranged father. Elena struggles too, struggles to be a good mother, to be patient, to make good choices, to keep her temper in check, to shield her son from harmful labelling, to juggle the needs of her son with the state’s attempt to pathologize and tranquilize his disruptive behaviour. And if we’re being honest, struggles to bond with a troubled son whose constant disturbances weigh on her heavily.

Behavioural disorders are draining for the whole family. They interrupt the usual intimacy and trust that breeds a healthy relationship. Elena loves her son, but some days it’s hard to like him. In allowing him to be unmedicated, Elena is also confronting her own inadequacies and must learn to cope with Tom’s challenges and to reach out to him on his level. Love means accepting each other’s authentic selves, and no one in this film, or in life, is perfect.

Writer-directors Rodrigo Plá and Laura Santullo realize the importance of the central mother-son relationship, and they nurture it with strong, grounded performances by Chávez and Bertorelli, who remind us of the humanity pulsing around the essence of this issue. Overtaxed teachers, greedy big pharma, overzealous social services…they all fall away when we see Tom’s big eyes go round when another grown up dismisses him. There is no ‘other Tom.’ There’s just a kid who’s scared and confused and wants to fit in. It’s about time the grown-up figure out how to help him.

The Other Tom is an official selection of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

7 thoughts on “The Other Tom

    1. Tom

      For real though, I grew up kind of a problem kid. Especially emotionally. I was a real pain in the ass for my parents who constantly worry about me. I didn’t have prescribed meds or anything but there might be an argument that I should have had them. That this movie is titled ‘The Other Tom” makes this hit pretty close to home, actually.

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      1. Jay Post author

        Yeah, we sort of come to understand and appreciate the title through this little boy’s eyes – he’s not actually a bad kid, his behaviour just gets him labeled that way, but he can’t help it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. fragglerocking

    My boy was diagnosed with ADHD and medicated, he used to pretend to take his pills and I’d find them down the back of the sofa and the like, I gave up, I loved him anyways. Might give this a watch.

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  2. Willow Croft

    It astounds me how little ADD/ADHD is understood these days. I mean, when I was a kid, not many people knew much about it (In middle school, I got labelled with the “R” word and with hearing loss by teachers/the school system and pretty much the kitchen sink–everything but ADHD. I was 28 when I got diagnosed.). It’s another thing to be in schools in this day and age and have the teacher (said school was specifically geared towards kids with learning differences et al) say to a kid whose ADD I could see from a mile away “Oh, he’s just slow” right in front of the kid, and the whole class laughed. I don’t take meds, and I rely on coping techniques. These techniques for kids (I was an educational aide for kids with different learning styles) aren’t hard to implement…and I believe it’s just the school system that’s letting down kids. As an ADHD person myself, I’m not an advocate for meds, especially for the really young kids.

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