Get ready for this mouthful of a title: Aliens Abducted My Parents And Now I Kinda Feel Left Out. It’s the kind of title that immediately piques your interest. My experience with a title of this cadence would lead me to believe one of two things: that the film is either an edgy and slightly pretentious indie or a poor imitation of that. A selection of the 2023 Twin Cities Film Festival, Aliens Abducted My Parents isn’t really either of those. Rather it’s a wholesome family sci-fi coming-of-age romp.
In his second feature film to date, Jake Van Wagoner tells the story of angsty teen and aspiring journalist, Itsy (Emma Tremblay), whose family moves form an unnamed bustling city to the quiet itty bitty town of Pebble Falls. Alongside her annoying younger brother Evan (Kenneth Cummins), Itsy grumbles in the backseat as her overly enthusiastic parents drive up to their new home. This house is more than a fixer-upper and the closest hardware store is hours away; the sight leaves Itsy feeling stranded. Filled with little enthusiasm on her first day at her new school, Itsy meets Calvin.
Calvin (Jacob Buster) comes to class in a homemade space suit, mumbles some jargon about stars, then sits right next to Itsy. Though he is obviously on the weirder side, Itsy subtly takes a liking to him. After class she is approached by Heather, resident mean girl and writer for the school new paper, with a proposition to enter a journalism contest. Now with a little more hope in her eyes, Itsy listens closer: the winner of this contest gets a scholarship to NYU. This is her ticket out, a chance to be back in the city. The prompt of this contest is to write about the strangest thing in your home town, and Heather wants to write about Calvin.
We first meet Calvin as a kid, maybe seven or eight years old, star gazing on the roof with his father (Will Forte). They are peering out of a telescope looking for Jesper’s Comet, which comes around once every 10 years. His dad steps away for just a few moments when a flash of blue light comes across young Calvin’s view. Aliens have abducted his parents. Back in present day Calvin has been studying space relentlessly, mapping stars, tracking Jesper’s Comet which is due make its way back around earth in a matter of days. On a quest to find his lost parents, Calvin believes they will return with the comet. Some think he’s crazy, and maybe the audience does for a while too, but we hold out hope that he is right.
In order to win this competition Heather enlists Itsy to spend time with the space minded man for research purposes. Unbeknownst to this subplot, Calvin is happy to finally have someone to spend time with. The pair grow closer as Itsy continues her “research” to spend more and more time with him. This budding romance is what makes Aliens Abducted My Parents as a quintessential teen film so sweet.
Sweetening the story even further are the young actors. Tremblay (whose brother is child star Jacob Tremblay) and Buster in particular give such endearing performances and have impeccable chemistry that makes you fall for them almost as much as they fall for each other. The adults and more notable names of the film, Forte and Elizabeth Mitchell, however do not bring their A or even B game. Forte seems as though he is playing a parody of a father but the punchlines are cut out so his delivery just reads flat. As far as Mitchell’s performance goes, she pitifully plays the absentee mother role and struggles to put any emotion behind her actions.
For a sci-fi film, there are very few special effects used, likely due to some budget restraints. But nonetheless Van Wagoner creates a fantastical world with the tools he does have. Alien spacecrafts are often indicated through a dynamic score and bold streaks of light keeping the ship itself hidden and therefore a mystery. In the one instance CGI is used, the result pales in comparison to what was achieved with some simple lighting choices.
Aliens Abducted My Parents is a simple and wholesome story at the end of the day. It doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is, and that is okay. Movies need to be made for kids and they don’t always need to be layered with secret adult humor or refences to things that go over a young mind. Aliens Abducted My Parents is akin to a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), ones like High School Musical (2006) or Lemonade Mouth (2011) that have lower budgets and cheesy writing but become childhood favorites.
Films like those might not contain the most nuanced ideas or proclaim a bold new perspective, but what they do have is valuable lessons for kids like always being yourself or including others. Aliens Abducted My Parents And Now I Kinda Feel Left Out seems like the kind of movie that you would find wandering on a streaming service, put on for the family, and fall in love with it. We all have those semi obscure films that become staples of our childhood (mine is The Last Mimzy), and I have a feeling this film will find its way into many families’ collection of favorites.