Paul Dano’s directorial debut WILDLIFE is an eloquent, quiet film about a family that goes off the rails. Set in the 1960s, and adapted from the Richard Ford novel of the same name, movie goers witness the dissolution of a family through the eyes of the 14 year old son.
Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) is an only child, his father Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) a golf pro and his mother Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) a stay-at home mother who used to be a teacher. They’ve moved around a lot, and the latest move finds them in Great Falls, Montana. They appear to be the perfect family, with affectionate and loving parents and a smart son.
After Jerry is fired from his job at the golf course ( “I’m too well-liked” he says) finding work elsewhere leads nowhere. Jeanette disapproves of his choice to join men who fight the wildfires for $1 an hour, even though his son Joe finds out the golf course wants to re-hire him.
Jeanette becomes desperate, and starts an affair with a rich man who owns the Cadillac dealership in town. As her perfect facade cracks, she changes her style of dress and the way she interacts with her son. Joe becomes almost complicit as Jeanette introduces him to her wealthy lover, and her behavior erratic as she tries to check herself, waffling between loving mother and desperate, abandoned housewife seeking something like approval or at least understanding from her son.
As Joe becomes desperate for his father to return from the wildfires, he watches as the mother he thought he knew shows a different side to him. When Jerry returns and finds out what is going on, the climax of the movie is an additional tragedy.
What is left of the family at the end mirrors a sad truth: there is no happy ending, yet lives continue, and the world doesn’t stop. It just changes as the new paradigm shift absorbs the characters.
WILDLIFE is playing in Austin starting November 2nd at Violet Crown Austin and the Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills – Map
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including a sexual situation, brief strong language, and smoking)
Directed By: Paul Dano
Written By: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan
In Theaters: Oct 19, 2018 Limited
Runtime: 104 minutes
Studio: IFC Films