Wildlife

Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Paul Dano

Oct 31, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife focuses on a young boy, Joe (The Visit’s Ed Oxenbould), forced to act like an adult after witnessing the demise of his parents’ marriage in 1960’s Montana.  When Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job as a golf instructor, he abandons his conventional nuclear responsibilities and goes off to fight a wildfire near the Canadian border.  His wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) uses this as her opportunity to buck the trend of a traditional 1960’s housewife and departs down a path of self-discovery that further disrupts her marriage and home life.

The destructive wildfire is perhaps the fourth main character. Though almost entirely off-screen, its looming, imminent presence helps define and emphasize the on-screen tension. The idea of the critical blaze growing and devastating the landscape is a metaphor that is certainly not lost on the audience, down to the re-growth that the fire will produce in the end. 

Wildlife belongs to Mulligan, whose performance as the addled mother is as elegant and engaging as it is raw.  But ultimately unlike the wildfires in the film, Paul Dano’s directorial debut is just a slow, red ember that never actually catches fire.  It is commendable that the first time director (who also wrote the screenplay with his partner, Zoe Kazan) allows his actors the breathing room to explore their characters, thus producing fine performances.  Unfortunately good performances aren’t enough to save the film, which manages to make a little smoke, yet never an actual flame.   

This film was screened at the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival.

Author rating: 2.5/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10



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