The children were well-cast and funny and the smorgasbord of side-characters were all entertaining and unique. The family dynamics and relationships held together with realism even in the midst of a child-like science fiction piece. Joe’s friend Charles, who is the director of the super 8 zombie film, was a great caricature of film directors. The train blows up and he’s screaming about the focus ring falling off. There were so many wonderful filmmaking in-jokes. I am sure this had some of Spielberg’s own autobiography laced in.
Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota Fanning) had a quiet elegance about her, even when acting alongside a bunch of dirty boys, as she played the role of Alice. Her father Louis is a drunk who slept in and missed his shift the morning Joe’s mother was killed, it would have been him working had she not picked it up. Her father is a direct opposite of Joe’s father, however both parallel in their grief. Louis’ wife left him and Alice years ago and of course Jackson’s wife was killed. You see throughout the film how both men are shown dealing with their loss, and the awkwardness of their role in their children’s lives, in two very different ways. In the end, they come to terms with their place and with their love for their children. It’s kind of a cheesy ending, but that’s true to the style of this film and the time period and genre it’s emulating.