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Review: Wildlife

January 4, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The directorial debut of Paul Dano, who co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Zoe Kazan, Wildlife is based on Richard Ford’s 1990 novel of the same name, and is told from the point of view of its adolescent protagonist Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould).

Joe is a young teenager in 1960s Montana who is forced to watch his family fall apart when his father Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job and decides to leave town to help fight an ongoing forest fire, and his mother Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) takes up with another man (Bill Camp).

While Jerry reacts poorly to the pain of being fired from his job, and is struggling to accept the fact that his traditionally masculine role as head of the household is being stripped away, Jeannette is desperate to gain some form of independence and break free from her role as a subjugated housewife. This leaves Joe torn between his natural allegiance to his mother and the admiration that he still has for his father, as he starts to step out into the world on his own for the first time, getting a job at a local portrait studio.

Directed by Dano with an observant and low-key style that shows the young actor turned filmmaker is already establishing his own authorial voice, Wildlife is an indelible and beautifully made portrait of 1960s suburban malaise. The film is carried by excellent performances, with the teenaged Oxenbould bringing an incredible amount of depth to his role as a kid unwillingly caught in the middle of a failing marriage, as Mulligan and Gyllenhaal bring a great deal of nuance to their characters in a way that helps us understand them, even if we don’t always like their actions.

There is an underlying sense of sadness to Wildlife, and the film has a tremendous amount of nostalgia and pathos in every one of cinematographer Diego García’s beautifully composed frames, with the story representing a sort of disillusion of the American Dream in a way that is haunting and quietly moving to watch. I have a feeling this one’s going to linger for a long time.

Wildlife is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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