It’s pretty easy to look at a film title like Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out — which, from now on, I’m just calling Aliens Abducted My Parents — and roll your eyes. It’s just so goofy. (And admittedly makes it really hard to write a headline for.) But it’s also incredibly fitting and does a great job of selling what this movie is all about. Director Jake Van Wagoner’s Aliens Abducted My Parents, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is a lighthearted mashup of a family-friendly caper and coming-of-age tale, one that does just enough weird sci-fi stuff to help it get away with an otherwise formulaic story.
Ten years ago, a young Calvin (Jacob Buster) was waiting on his roof with his dad (Will Forte) trying to catch a glimpse of a comet when his life changed forever, as both of his parents mysteriously disappeared. For the next decade, stuck in the small Utah town of Pebble Falls, Calvin became obsessed with the idea that they were abducted by aliens, spending almost every second preparing himself for the comet’s return and their reunion. That involved learning everything he could about space travel, building his own cobbled-together astronomy tools, and even wearing a homemade spacesuit to class for testing. Flash forward to high school and, as you can imagine, he’s not exactly the most popular guy.
As the comet’s return nears, a new family moves to Pebble Falls from the big city, and naturally, teen daughter Itsy (Emma Tremblay) is not happy about it. In an attempt to fit in, she partners with a local Cool Kid on a journalism project to write about the weirdest thing in their hometown — which, of course, happens to be Calvin (who not only wears a spacesuit in public but also commits the unforgivable crime of dipping Oreos in orange juice).
Anyone over the age of 10 will likely be able to predict where the various plot threads in Aliens Abducted My Parents are going. They’re ones you’ve seen in countless family-friendly flicks before. But here, the familiarity breeds a sense of comfort, the same kind that comes from putting on a classic ‘80s romp from Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. It works in part because of the sweet chemistry between Buster and Tremblay and also because — as you can probably guess from the title — the movie isn’t afraid to get weird. There’s goofy gadgetry, questionable science, and just generally a lot of silly humor. And as predictable as it can be, it gets pretty real toward the end, with a gut punch that stands out in an otherwise lighthearted picture. It also does a great job of keeping its big mystery a secret until just the right moment.
So what Aliens Abducted My Parents lacks in originality, it mostly makes up for with heart, like a cover of an old song that adds just enough to make it interesting. It’s also the rare modern live-action film that works for all audiences — cute and fun for kids, nostalgic and comforting for their parents.
This review is based on a premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out doesn’t currently have a date for a wider release.