Wildlife – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Paul Dano
Writers: Paul Dano (screenplay by), Zoe Kazan (screenplay by)
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould
This is based on Richard Ford’s novel of the same name. It becomes clear early on that Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) have a tepid marriage, the main support of which is their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). The family’s move to Montana, at the insistence of Jerry, was not a good move according to Jeanette who is without friends in their new neighbourhood. When Jerry loses his job at the local golf club his job prospects are poor apart from stacking shelves in a local supermarket. Their precarious financial state becomes even more acute.
Serious forest fires are burning in the nearby mountains. Jerry decides to join a fire fighting troop and live in the forest with the other fire fighters. This permits Jeanette to make new friends and she does – well one anyway the rather pasty-faced Bill Camp (Warren Miller) who, even if a bit mature, has the singular attraction of having money. When the fire fighting comes to an end because of rain Jerry returns.
So the classic male confrontation over a female is set up. The difference and what gives the story strength is the role that their son Joe plays as the relationship between Jerry and Jeanette declines. Neither of them listen to what he wants but a smart ending shows that children have insights of which the parents are not aware.
The central character is Jeanette. She is not particularly likeable but she feels hard done by in her marriage to the rather ineffectual Jerry. Even if Bill has money it is understandable that Jerry is enraged in her choosing Bill. Mulligan gives a mature and commanding performance and is entirely convincing as the self centred Jeanette who can see all too clearly that her chances of happiness with Jerry are receding pretty fast. Bill seems to be an unimpressive choice as a vehicle of escape but she does not have a mass of options. Director Dano, however, manages to keep the Jeanette and Bill relationship as understandable. Young Oxenbould initially seems to have a non-descript minor role as Joe, the teenage son, but in the last portion of the film his part becomes of increasing importance which Oxenbould delivers impressively. Surprisingly, Gyllenhaal has the least interesting character to play in Jerry which needless to say he performs well but he has comparatively little material with which to display his considerable acting ability.
Overall, this is a calm insight into a marriage whose best days are in the past. Given that the script is based on a Richard Ford novel, each of the characters have depth. What is unusual is that the ending of the film is one of its highlights and its final shots, simple as they are, have a haunting ache to them.