When Mia Isaac first read the script of Don’t Make Me Go, she fell in love with the story so quickly that it made her “a little scared.”
“I know that it meant so much to [screenwriter Vera Herbert] writing it, and so much of it was true from her own life and her own relationship with her father and I wanted so badly to give a performance that she watching the movie could be proud of,” Isaac explains over Zoom.
Don’t Make Me Go captures the cross-country journey of father Max (John Cho) and teen daughter Wally (Isaac) during what turns out to be the most pivotal summer of their lives. With a promise to finally teach Wally to drive, they travel from California to New Orleans for Max’s 20th college reunion.
However, Max has other intentions for the road trip. Upon learning he has a terminal disease, he wants to spend as much time with his daughter as possible. He also hopes to run into Wally’s mom at the reunion who left the two of them many years ago.
The film marks Isaac’s feature debut, which she describes as a “cathartic” experience. She and Wally are the same age and, as Isaac notes, are both at a halfway point between being a kid and adult.
“Wally, in some moments, she's very mature and she picks up on a lot of things about Max that he doesn't even pick up on himself and it seems like she's very wise,” Isaac says. “In other moments, she's just a dumb teenager and she makes stupid mistakes.”
“There were things that I hadn't confronted about myself that I got to confront through the eyes of Wally,” she later adds.
As we watch Wally transition out of adolescence, Don’t Make Me Go also presents a coming of age for Max. As director Hannah Marks explains, even as a father in his 40s, he has a lot to learn.
“She really is able to teach him about what matters in terms of being brave and having gumption and taking risks and following your heart and all of the things that we start to forget as we get older,” Marks says.
The dynamic between Wally and Max is what really struck Marks when she read the script.
“It just was really evident on the page how much love was behind it and passion,” she says. “The central relationship in the movie between father and daughter felt really, really beautiful to me.”
Don’t Make Me Go propels on the palpable emotions of coming of age. Marks describes how it’s a time in your life that’s “electric” because the stakes feel higher with “everything happening for the first time.”
The film gets literal about this via Wally’s rage-induced fender bender. The scene wasn’t originally in the script, but it properly captured the chaos of her feelings.
“It just felt right,” Marks says. “It was really a metaphor for their relationship and a combination of everything that was happening.”
Isaac credits Marks for supporting her during her first movie. Although she describes the car crash scene as “fun,” she admits to feeling nervous at other times on set. Early on, they filmed an intimate scene with Wally’s romantic interest, for which Marks made a “comfortable and safe environment.”
“Hannah pulled me aside and we sat on the bed and she told me about how when she was a teenager, she did scenes like these and how nervous she was and how I had her support and if I ever wanted to stop, I could stop,” Isaac says. “I'm just lucky to have her as a friend too because being able to joke with her and laugh with her and be awkward with her was really special.”
From the moment Don’t Make Me Go begins, Wally sets expectations. “You're not going to like the way this story ends, but I think you're going to like this story,” she says. And she’s right. The end’s twist does more than its fair share of tugging at the heartstrings. But to fixate on the end would be to ignore Don’t Make Me Go’s larger purpose.
“Tragedy can happen even when you're a teenager, when you're really young and don't expect it,” Marks says. “That's part of life, just dealing with the hardships.”
Isaac also believes the film serves as a reminder that we should appreciate the time we have and the people we have in our lives.
“I hope that people's takeaway from Wally is that all of us are just looking for a way to be loved,” she says.
Don’t Make Me Go begins streaming on Prime Video on July 15.
Photography by: Courtesy Amazon Studios