No segue. I am aware of the movie’s title, but before writing these initial impressions, I didn’t even know what this movie was about and never once got a trailer for it.
The story looks like it’s about a teen boy who watches his parents’ marriage crumble, possibly due to his dad having an affair.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Ed Oxenbould (THE VISIT , and the upcoming BEING GAVIN ), Carey Mulligan (BROTHERS , and the upcoming A CHRISTMAS CAROL ), and Jake Gyllenhaal (STRONGER , NOCTURNAL ANIMALS , EVEREST , and upcoming films SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME  and VELVET BUZZSAW ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have actor Paul Dano, making his directorial debut. Penning the screenplay is Zoe Kazan, known for stuff I’ve not seen or heard of. Composing the score is David Lang, known for known for stuff I’ve not seen or heard of. The cinematographer is Diego García, known for THE DARKNESS (2016). Finally, co-editing are Louise Ford (THOROUGHBREDS , THE WITCH , and the upcoming THE LIGHTHOUSE ) and Matthew Hannam (IT COMES AT NIGHT , SWISS ARMY MAN , and the upcoming VOX LUX ).
Overall, this looks… okay. I don’t know, I’m also seeing WHAT THEY HAD and that also features a story about a failing marriage. I have no idea what to expect, other than maybe some good acting in an otherwise pretentious script. Seriously, the burning wood dialog that Mulligan was giving? Bleh…
This is my honest opinion of: WILDLIFE
Set in the 1960s. Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) is a fourteen year old boy living with his mother Jeanette “Jean” (Carey Mulligan) and father Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Montana. One day, Jerry loses his job at the golf club, and even though Jean is supportive at first, Jerry unfortunately can’t find another, resulting in him drinking a lot. However, even though both Jean and Joe find jobs of their own, Joe notices that his parents are fighting more and then Jerry goes off to to fight a series of wildfires on the outskirts of town. In his absence, Jean slowly becomes more and more distant from Joe and gets a second job working for a wealthy car salesman, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), whose relationship with his mother makes Joe highly uncomfortable.
I… didn’t hate it, but I think I’m still chewing on how I feel about it as a whole.
You know what this movie feels like? It feels like a less impressive ROOM (2015). The similarities are there. The story takes place from the son’s point of view and he’s confused as to why things are happening around him. However, where this movie falters when comparing the two stories, I feel like Joe is written like he’s supposed to be a young kid, but is being played by a teenager. So much is happening around him and it’s almost a little staggering how much Joe doesn’t seem to know, despite how obvious a lot of it is. He asks questions, like, “When’s Dad coming home?” even though Jerry never offered a time table on how long he’s be gone. I don’t know, there just seems to be a lot of mannerisms that Joe has. The way he walks into a room, the softness of his voice when he tries to talk to a parent, it all feels like he’s supposed to be a little kid. Maybe he’s supposed to be a naive, small town teen who simply isn’t very worldly, so things like infidelity are foreign to him, but one would think by the teenage years, teens would be able to connect a few dots. Maybe they don’t understand why those dots connect, but they’d be connected regardless.
One of my least favorite aspects of this movie is how quickly everything goes to shit in the movie, specifically with the parents and their personalities shifting. At first, it looks like Jerry and Jean are a loving and supportive couple. However, things get rushed not long after Jerry loses his job. Jerry becomes an alcoholic and sleeps in his truck. He becomes cold and defensive toward his family when they ask simple questions or make suggestions. By this point, it’s only two or three scenes later. Not a whole lot of time to transition between “loving and supportive,” to “kind of an asshole.” A scene or two later, and the parents are fighting and Jerry goes off to be a firefighter.
After all that, I don’t know what the fuck happened to Jean’s character. I mean, okay, it’s that story about the husband going off to a dangerous situation, the wife feeling like she’s been abandoned, and finds solace in another man. I feel like the eventual affair would be more shocking or have a bigger impact if we had a couple more scenes showing Jerry and Jean as a happy couple instead of the one. A little more time for the audience to invest in them. However, that’s neither here nor there and Jean’s spiral downward is even worse. I get that she feels alone and abandoned, and I can even understand the cheating (actually, no I don’t, I never understand cheating, but for the sake of the narrative, I understand), but what mother in her right mind would flaunt the affair she has around her child?! Seriously, she gets really flirtatious with Warren and she is SHAMELESS about it around Joe. They go to his house for dinner, she wears a bareback dress with a plunging neckline, she gets drunk, and she dances provocatively with Warren right in front of Joe. To make matters worse, I did not like how close she get to Joe’s face, I really didn’t like how she looked at him, and I REALLY didn’t like how desperate and forceful she was to have Joe dance with her. My first thought was, “Uh, no… bad movie! Don’t do this to me! I can’t watch a movie featuring incest while I’m sitting in a movie theater crowded with old people! I can’t do this, movie!” Thank fuck that this movie never goes in that direction, but those brief-ass moments were unsettling as fuck, man.
But I can’t keep hating on this movie as there are some decent points that are worth mentioning.
As per usual, Gyllenhaal and Mulligan are great. They have some great scenes together and more than a few intense ones. Some don’t even need to have the volume cranked up to eleven as you can hear Jerry and Jean argue through the walls and it sounds pretty heated. Also despite Oxenbould not given a whole lot to work with to let him shine in some way, I do appreciate how he’s written in certain aspects. When Jean starts getting a little too negligent and can’t even be bothered to make her own son food, Joe is somehow smart enough to go into town and bring home groceries so that he can make dinner. I like that this kid doesn’t always take a shitty situation sitting down. He’s proactive when necessary. And perhaps this is simply a product of taking place in the 60s, but I enjoy how much Joe is treated like an adult. When he offers to get a job to help pay for things, he’s encouraged. He’s even brought in on certain conversations that not many teenagers would care to be a part of.
Overall, I can’t say that I liked this movie, but I can say that it was boring. The acting was good, sometimes great, and even though I didn’t get into it, there are some damn good camera shots in the movie, so give some credit to the cinematography. As far as actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut, it’s clear that he’s got some talent and would welcome a second outing to see what he can really do with more experience under his belt. As is, the story isn’t something that I didn’t agree with. Jeanette is atrociously unlikable, and character motivations take hard turns with no good segues. Really didn’t agree with the writing here. Can’t say if this is faithful to the book, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the book either. As a recommendation… viewer beware. By no means a bad movie, but I can see this being pretty polarizing. You’re either going to like it or not.
My honest rating for WILDLIFE: 3/5
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