TIFF Review: 'The Other Tom' Is a One-Note Look at a Complex Issue Directed by Rodrigo Plá and Laura Santullo

Starring Julia Chávez, Israel Rodríguez Bertorelli
TIFF Review: 'The Other Tom' Is a One-Note Look at a Complex Issue Directed by Rodrigo Plá and Laura Santullo
Tom (Israel Rodríguez Bertorelli) is a wayward, rambunctious little boy and a handful to his single mother Elena (Julia Chávez). A perennial distraction in school, albeit showing great talents in art class, Tom is diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication to control his behaviour. Cooperative at first, Elena begins to see some side effects the medications are having on Tom and decides to stop the treatment. When Tom's school becomes aware of this decision, social services begin an investigation and Elena and Tom face an uncertain future.

The Other Tom, based on the novel by co-director and co-writer Laura Santullo, aptly highlights the challenges single parents face. Balancing financial responsibilities, parenting duties and having a personal life, Elena is not the typical mother figure we're used to seeing on-screen. Rather than being an extreme "good" or "bad" mom, Elena shows the maddening frustrations and unconditional love a parent has for their child in equal parts. Chávez, in her first acting role, executes these complexities with tenderness in a capable if slightly uneven performance.

The young Rodríguez Bertorelli shows great talents that should only get better with time. Similar to Elena (and with credit to the screenplay), Tom is not played to any extreme — save for one incident that lands him in the hospital. There's a delicate balance of childhood wonder and red-flag behaviour within Tom that Rodríguez Bertorelli impressively conveys.

While The Other Tom presents interesting character studies, the core discussion about how best to manage ADHD in a child is biased at best. Santullo, along with her filmmaking partner Rodrigo Plá, take aim at the trend of immediately jumping to medication and the harm that could be caused. However, it fails to consider what meds alongside regular therapy and coping methods can achieve. It also fails to give Elena any critical thinking skills beyond, "I don't want my kid to be a zombie".

The film looks to tackle an interesting, multi-dimensional issue but only examines one note properly — and given the longer-than-necessary runtime, more could have been explored. But while the social commentary may not stick the landing, The Other Tom is a good vehicle for its two new actors to shine.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (Buenaventura Cine)