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Review: Wildlife (Sundance)

Wildlife (Sundance)
6 10

PLOT: The disintegration of a marriage, as seen through the eyes of a couple’s fourteen-year-old son.

REVIEW: WILDLIFE marks the directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, in a film he co-wrote with his partner, Zoe Kazan, and is based on the short novel by Richard Ford. Already, it’s raking-up acclaim, with many critics here claiming Dano’s film is nothing short of brilliant. While I respect the understated approach, I can’t get on-board with the prevailing wisdom that looks to anoint it as one of the fest’s great breakouts, as its appeal is just too narrow.

Clearly designed for highbrow, art-house audiences, WILDLIFE, set in a quiet Montana suburb circa-1960, to me is something that’s been done before - and with a lot more feeling. It reminded me a little of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, a much more absorbing period character study, in which the characters had authenticity and warmth. By contrast, this take a clinical approach to the family at the film’s center, which is cold and off-putting.

One can’t fault the acting, which is superb, specifically from Aussie newcomer Ed Oxenbould as Joe, the fourteen year old son of Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), a couple young enough to still be hoping for some upward mobility, but old enough to be discouraged by the fact that it hasn’t happened already. When Jerry loses his job at a country club, he up and leaves his family to go fight wildfires for menial pay, just telling Joe that something inside him compels him to leave. Meanwhile, the usually chipper Jeannette goes to pieces, starts drinking heavily and seeing a divorced upper-class businessman (Bill Camp).

Mulligan and Gyllenhaal try to liven-up their parts up the best they can, but the gaze is so removed that the people they’re playing never really feel three-dimensional or particularly flesh-and-blood. Of the two, Mulligan fares better because she has more screen-time, but they both seem a little too young and bright to be so aimless and self-pitying - an emotion this film is full-of.

Luckily, Oxenbould, while mostly forced to play reactive to his older co-stars, conveys more inner-life, and if anyone is to justifiably breakout because of this, it’s him. Dano’s eye as a director is good, and for a first film it’s assured. I’m sure he made exactly the movie he wanted to make, but it’s hard to sit through if you’re not patient - a thing that’s tougher to be at a fest when you’re seeing four-to-five movies a day. Some empathy was needed to make this able to connect to an audience and WILDLIFE has been totally drained of that feeling. Dano has chops as a director, that’s for certain, and it’s well-made, well-acted film, but it’s also slow and a hard watch. I prefer my films a little less clinical, but one can't deny it does what it set out to do.

Source: JoBlo.com

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