Film, Reviews
Oct 11, 2018

Wildlife Film Review

Carey Mulligan shines in actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut: Wildlife


Wildlife‘ is an intimate family portrait as seen through the eyes of the family’s teenage son. It’s a dark coming of age tale. But unlike most coming of age films, this focuses not on the son, but the family. It’s incredible what families can endure, and Wildlife is a study of familial relationships.

Wildlife premiered at Sundance Film Festival, and draws you in with Carey Mulligan’s star power ,alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. Set in 1960 in Montana, Wildlife concerns Joe (Oxenbould), who has just come to town with his long suffering mother Jeanette (Mulligan) and restless father Jerry (Gyllenhaal), who keeps moving the family in search of new job opportunities. But after he’s fired from his gig at a golf course, he reluctantly accepts risky work as part of a firefighting crew battling a blaze in the nearby forests, which will keep him away from home for weeks.

Dano, who co-wrote the adaptation with Zoe Kazan, quickly focuses the film’s attention on the relationship Joe has with his mother. She in turn treats him more like a co-conspirator than a son. With Jerry gone, she starts talking to Joe candidly about her worries concerning her husband’s infidelity and the infrequency of their sexual intimacy.  Jeanette is a delightful character, she reveals a more assertive, liberated personality which is a by-product of both her anger at Jerry for abandoning the family and her rising suspicion that she’s trapped in a bad marriage.

The passive Joe mostly reacts to his mother’s impulsive acts, which can be a challenge for any actor. But Oxenbould (The Visit) displays an outlying tranquility while hinting at the character’s underlying anxiety.  Joe has had to grow up fast to serve as an unofficial referee between his parents, his mothers actions quietly navigate Joe into how to best preserve his family once Jeanette begins courting a wealthy local entrepreneur (Bill Camp).

While Oxenbould is muted, Mulligan is electric. A 34-year-old feeling regret about choosing a thankless life of domesticity, Jeanette sees an opportunity to change her circumstance once Jerry takes off, and Carey Mulligan shines as she captures Jeanette’s desperation, repression, and regrets. Wildlife provides enough sociological detail so that we understand how women are repressed in 1960s culture — Jeanette’s best job prospects are as a secretary or substitute teacher — but the anger and need simmering beneath the character’s surface seem to have been triggered by other factors as well, making us wonder about the depth of the unhappiness within the marriage.

Paul Dano grounds this emotional narrative in measured tones. As a director, Paul Dano prefers static camera setups and uncluttered frames, emphasising the mundane nature of the drama, which only allows the increasing darkness of this tale to become more upsetting. We recommend adding this one to your viewing que this awards season!