‘Calm that experience. That’s what my mother used to call it when my father would roar in drunk...’
No matter how happy the upbringing is, every kid will experience their parents getting into a fight at some point. It’s part of the shattering of the childhood dream that your parents are perfect saints who know all the answers. Of course, that isn’t true. Our parents are just normal people with flaws and hangups – full of contradictions and mistakes. Wildlife takes that moment of realisation and stretches it out across 105 agonising minutes…
When Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) abandons his family to take a job putting out wildfires, his wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) struggles to deal with the fallout. Caught in the middle is Joe (Ed Oxenbould), a sensitive and conscientious boy who only wants his family to be a unit again.
Paul Dano is better known for his work in front of the camera, but Wildlife is an assured and deeply personal directorial debut. Written alongside his wife Zoe Kazan and based on Richard Ford’s novel, Dano’s film is slow-paced but affecting, particularly in the third act in which Mulligan unravels and begins an affair with Bill Camp’s unscrupulous local businessman. Mulligan has demonstrated many times that she can play pretty much play anything but she really excels at portraying a woman on the edge of something. Breakdown? Revelation? We’re never entirely sure. Gyllenhaal plays Jerry as a closed book and this allows Oxenbould to hold the viewer’s hand through most of the narrative. Indeed, we see everything through the younger actor’s eyes and this gives the film a welcome coming-of-age feel that only adds to the emotional resonance.
Wildlife is not a bombastic film, but it achieves a quiet desperation that brings to mind other gloomy classics like Revolutionary Road and Blue Valentine. Well worth a look.