Wildlife

Actors Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan are an awesomely talented Hollywood couple. They’ve been together for years, and stay under the paparazzi radar. Their movie Ruby Sparks was cute, and I was anticipating Dano’s first time behind the camera, on this script that he wrote with Kazan. Unfortunately, I thought more of the extremely boring movie Dana did with Kazan 8 years ago — Meek’s Cutoff. This movie gives it a run for its money in the boring department. Unfortunately, just like Jonah Hill’s recent first-time directing disappointment, this movie just doesn’t work.

It’s 1960 in Montana. You know it’s 1960 because there’s an old car in the neighborhood, and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) drinks a beer while listening to a baseball game on an old radio. He’s a former golf pro, who now works at a country club shining shoes, taking care of the greens, and golfing with the members. He gets fired early on, and that’s when characters spiral out of control in ways that make little sense. In fact, wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan, in a role some critics are saying is her best ever) goes from being a supportive wife to being…well, I’m not sure what. Nothing her character does makes a bit of sense. She totally conveys the ‘50s, Stepford wife vibe at first. Yet once her husband stops looking for work, or takes a job (fighting a fire) she doesn’t approve of, she becomes an insane woman that drinks, sleeps with other men, and not caring for her son. The son, played by newcomer Ed Oxenbould, is terrific. But who cares? It’s easily the most boring coming-of-age story I’ve ever seen. Even his boring exchanges with a female classmate don’t go anywhere.

Anything that might be intriguing (the idea that the ‘50s weren’t all just “Leave it to Beaver” and Brooklyn Dodgers excitement)…well, that’s been done to death on screen.

It’s also hard to buy anything that happens with Jeanette’s character. And you certainly have no sympathy for her (her husband will be gone for a few weeks, not a few years). You also don’t have sympathy for the husband (who was offered his old job back the next day and refused to take it). At one point my wife asked me if he knew how to read. I wondered if he was slow. The characters are so poorly done, the viewer will have questions like that (if they don’t fall asleep watching this).

People often say “the book is better” and I’m guessing the 1990 novel by Richard Ford probably is. It couldn’t be worse.

There’s nice cinematography from Diego Garcia (Neon Bull, Cemetery of Splendor), and solid costume (Amanda Ford) and production design (Akin McKenzie). This movie has no personality or point of view. At times, I thought the low-key angst would start to build into something interesting, the way a marriage dissolves for a ‘70s family in The Ice Storm.

Now, had Jeanette just gotten tired with constantly moving, and trying to uplift her husband’s spirit after each job he loses, okay. Give us that story in an interesting way.

Don’t buy all the hype from critics that just want to praise something they deem to be artistic. It looks great, and the performances are terrific, but audiences will be sadly disappointed.

1 star out of 5. Bring a pillow.