Wildlife (2018)

Director: Paul Dano
Writer: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan
Based on: Richard Ford‘s novel
Cast: Ed Oxenbould, Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Travis W Bruyer, Zoe Margaret Colletti
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 5.11.2018

Joe (Ed Oxenbould) lives with his parents Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) in what could and should be the standard family of the 1950s. But when Jerry loses his job, things start to fall apart. He finally decides to leave town to find employment, effectively leaving Jeanette and Joe as well. Now Joe has to watch his mother trying to cope with the situation by flirting which puts him in a very difficult situation.

I’m afraid that my expectations for Wildlife were a little too high. It’s not bad, but it just isn’t as great as the cast would suggest.

The film poster showing Carey Mulligan and Jack Gyllenhaal sitting apart in front of a canvas showing the sky, looking at each other.

Wildlife strongest point is definitely its cast. Mulligan and Gyllenhaal are amazing (Gyllenhall even manages to make the angry line “BOY BOY BOY … BOY!” not only not ridiculous in the slightest, but absolutely believable), and Oxenbould does a good job, too. But I struggled with the script.

For one, Jeanette’s characterization becomes more and more muddled, making her decisions in the second third almost entirely incomprehensible. I mean, I can come up with motivations for what she’s doing, but they are barely based on anything we get to see in the film itself. The other thing that didn’t come together for me is the way Joe is treated by his parents. It was not only inconsistent, but also seemed more motivated by the narrative’s need than by any kind of motivation in the characters: he sees and hears things here because the film is told from his perspective and the audience needs to see and hear these things, not because it makes any sense that Joe as a character would see and hear them.

Ed Oxenbould, Carey Mulligan and Jack Gyllenhaal in the film.

Despite these weaknesses, the film works okay. It looks very good and the 50s are caught in a very believable way. The music isn’t great but it’s good enough. And it does make for a change to get to see mommy issues on the screen after what feels like eternities with mostly daddy issues.

As I said, I think my expectations were too high. It’s Dano’s debut as a director and writer after all and that should be taken into account (although Kazan has already written the wonderful Ruby Sparks). And I’ve definitely seen worse films. Let’s see what his sophomore feature will be like – I’m still curious to see it, even if Wildlife doesn’t quite work.

Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal in the film.

Summarizing: should be better, could have been a lot worse.

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