In Silas Howard's drama, the phrase "a kid like Jake" carries a couple of different connotations. First, it describes an imaginative and playful 4-year-old named Jake (Leo James Davis); on the other hand, it's a distanced, at-arms-length, beat-around-the-bush manner of addressing, without directly articulating, the fact that Jake might be trans. A kid like Jake, in other words, is a kid who prefers to dress up as princesses and play with dolls rather than trains. That story could go many different ways but Howard's film (adapted by Daniel Pearle from his own play) takes place in New York, with Jake's parents, Alex (Claire Danes) and Greg (Jim Parsons) portrayed as an open-minded and liberal couple. Still, they struggle to come to terms with the unidentifiable, especially when they're presented with an opportunity to capitalize on his uniqueness in an application to a prestigious private school that celebrates diversity.
This family drama often feels like a therapy session, perhaps because Parsons plays a therapist; the talky nature of the film lends itself to too much idle pondering and meandering side plots. A Kid Like Jake doesn't know what to do with Priyanka Chopra's best friend character, the comic relief that is Amy Landecker's therapy patient character, or, as is the case with most movies, Octavia Spencer, who plays a preschool adviser. Howard, who is trans himself, approaches the film with sensitivity, but it ends up feeling like a conversation to be continued, not resolved. At least there's some classic Claire Danes crying.