First Hit: Finely crafted story about a young man coming into his own while witnessing a failing marriage.
This was actor Paul Dano’s directing debut and he nailed it. When creating a complex, stylistic, story that depends on his actors' ability to convey a story, it’s important that the director get the most out of subtle yet powerful story.
It also is a benefit if the director has actors that can make the story come alive. In Wildlife, we watch Carey Mulligan (playing wife Jeanette Brinson), Jake Gyllenhaal (playing husband Jerry Brinson), and Ed Oxenbould (playing son Joe Brinson).
Jeanette and Jerry are a struggling to survive couple in Montana. It’s in the 1960s and they’ve moved there in hopes of bettering their life. Jerry has had problems keeping jobs and here he works for a golf course, but the owner thinks, as an employee he’s overstepped his boundaries with customers. They fire him, and his despondence is in direct conflict with his natural ability to be friendly, optimistic, and ability to look for the upside. He's confused and hurting.
He and Jeanette help Joe with his homework because the moving from place to place has made it difficult for Joe to find traction in school. But as this story evolves Joe gets to grow and learn about himself and in this film, we see this slow, sure transition.
Jeanette, who has the second most screen time must find her place in life. When Jerry leaves them to fight fires because he needs to find some work. The tension in the family starts to really show when Jerry leaves to go fight fires. Jeanette, unhappy with his decision, finds work for herself and also begins to change her unsatisfied life. While teaching people to swim she becomes close with Warren Miller (Bill Camp) who is one of the more successful men in town. Looking for some security in her life, she begins to flirt with Warren.
Joe, watching all this, is confused. Getting a job as a photographer’s assistant, he begins to learn something about himself and his place in the family. Some of the conversations with his mom are very revealing in that they show how unsure Jeanette is about what to do as a parent and what will make her happy. When she asks Joe, if he likes his name, I thought the question alone was revealing.
The pacing of this film could use some help, but because the acting was so strong by all four main characters the uneven pace was easily overlooked.
Mulligan was excellent. This was a wonderful and revealing role for her. It showed extraordinary depth. Gyllenhaal was wonderful as the husband. His internal agony and outward optimism was wonderfully balanced. His loud outburst in the kitchen during one of their fights was jarringly perfect. Oxenbould was amazing as the young boy watching his family fall apart. His concern for his father, and love and support for his mom were wonderful. But watching his subtle growth in this story was perfect. Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan wrote a strong script, capturing small town 60s perfectly. Dano got excellent work from his actors.
Overall: This was an excellent, strong, and delicate film.