Emma Tremblay and Jacob Buster appear in Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Left Out, an official selection of the Kids section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Steve Olpin.
When you see a title like Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out, you might expect something along the lines of Spy Kids. A very campy, kid-friendly action adventure that thrills children as much as it does adults. But that’s not what Aliens Abducted My Parents delivers. Instead, Jake Van Wagoner and Austin Everett’s film straddles the line between the familiar and the unexpected. On the one hand, it plays like any number of Sundance-bound coming-of-age stories, hitting all of the familiar tropes with little deviation. On the other hand, it’s a very quirky, often absurd blending of science fiction and YA cheese. It rarely rises to more than the sum of its parts, but it’s also rarely anything less than amusing. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
A Familiar Tale…
When budding journalist Itsy (Emma Tremblay) moves to a small town with her family, she meets Calvin (Jacob Buster), the local weirdo. Calvin believes his parents were abducted by aliens some ten years earlier, and their abduction has left him pretty messed up. He regularly scans the nighttime sky for traces of UFOs, commutes around the town wearing a full spacesuit, and regularly spouts the kind of sci-fi technobabble that would make a Star Trek or Doctor Who writer blush. Calvin fascinates Itsy, enough for her to decide to write an article about him, hoping to win a scholarship to the college of her dreams. Yet, the more time the two spend together, the more Itsy grows to believe Calvin’s story. What if his parents really were abducted by aliens? Would that really be so impossible?
Much of Aliens Abducted My Parents feels like a retread of a dozen other movies. If you’ve ever seen a Disney Channel Original Movie or a Sundance film aimed at the teenage crowd, you’re gonna be familiar with all of the tropes on display here. There are Itsy’s dopey, inattentive parents (Matt Biedel, Hailey Smith); the quirky love interest; the mean girl (Landry Townsend); the precocious, somewhat annoying brother (Kenneth Cummins); and a lot of heavy-handed emotional drama. While all of that plays like a “greatest hits” of Sundance films past, there’s something interesting underneath it all. Sure, the movie feels very predictable, even in the moments where it zigs instead of zags. But there’s a heart to the film that shines fairly brightly.
…Told Very Well
Sometimes retreading old tropes works out very well. There can be comfort found in what’s familiar, after all. That’s very much what Aliens Abducted My Parents feels like – the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Little about the movie comes across as challenging. Throughout the entire film, you never feel like things aren’t going exactly where you’d assume they would. Even down to the multiple third-act “twists” – which feel both surprising and entirely predictable.
Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had on the journey here. Jake Van Wagoner crafts this retread of familiar tropes into something that never fails to be entertaining. The montages are really cute, the cinematography is strong, and the movie just oozes fun. The script, on the other hand, leaves a bit to be desired. To be fair, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Austin Everett’s screenplay, there’s just nothing particularly exciting about it either. It’s all very been there, done that.
That being said, the entire cast does their best with what they’re given. All of the adults give exactly the kind of performances you’d expect – in the best way possible. Of particular note are Will Forte and Elizabeth Mitchell as Calvin’s parents. Both of them just relish their roles, really leaning into the tropes they’re playing., and it’s an absolute delight to witness. As for Itsy and Calvin, Tremblay and Buster are both effortlessly charming. Much of the film rests on their shoulders, and the two carry the film remarkably. Often, their comedic timing or dramatic chops elevate clunky dialogue, emotionally heavy scenes, or not particularly funny gags into something that works in spite of itself. That kind of thing goes a long way toward making a movie enjoyable.
At the end of the day, Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out doesn’t offer much to write home about. It’s all at once a familiar retread of several coming-of-age stories and a sci-fi romp that doesn’t quite lean into the absurdity of its premise. But underneath those layers of predictability lies a very charming, enjoyable film. It’s not particularly memorable, but it’s never anything less than fun to watch. Tremblay and Buster deliver excellent performances, elevating the material and properly drawing the audience into their characters’ budding romance. The film has some genuinely funny, surprisingly touching bits that are sure to stick with you after the credits have finished rolling.
I’m not entirely sure who this film is for, considering how often it veers from very childlike silliness to surprisingly adult moments, but Aliens Abducted My Parents is certainly worth a watch if you’re looking for something a bit lighter to watch this Sundance season.
Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out had its World Premiere in the Kids section of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Director: Jake Van Wagoner
Writer: Austin Everett
"Aliens Abducted My Parents" is a charming, if familiar, sci-fi romp. It feels like any number of similar coming-of-age stories, but the performances elevate the script enough to make the film worth a watch. It's a cute, sweet, and enjoyable watch.
Part-time writer, part-time theatre nerd, full-time dork.