Friday, February 2, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Wildlife

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Paul Dano
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Marriage has looked different throughout history as gender roles have evolved and society has come to understand the value of the nuclear family in new ways. Throughout that evolution, many people have been miserable as they have remained in unhappy unions they were made to think were necessary, and divorce was far more stigmatized than it is today. Some people choose to deal with the way things are in an inventive way, seeking out happiness where they can find it and refusing to accept the state of things as completely unchangeable and out of their control.

In 1960s Montana, lively fourteen-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould) looks up to his parents, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette (Carey Mulligan). When Jerry is fired from his job at a golf club, he has trouble finding new work and ultimately takes the opportunity to help go fight fires far from town, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. Jeanette, who has already gone from being a housewife to taking a job giving swimming lessons, refuses to wait for Jerry’s return, seeking the company of an older man (Bill Camp) and making little effort to hide this new romance from her son.

There is something about this era, just on the cusp of moving from traditional behavior of the previous decade to wilder, more rebellious attitudes of the next, that is appealing for this setting, which was originated in Richard Ford’s 1990 novel of the same name. The fact that Jeanette asserts herself so much and won’t take orders while waiting for her husband to come home is revolutionary in itself, and her wide-eyed son watches with horror as his mother demonstrates that she’s very much her own woman, while his father can’t hope to define himself as much other than someone unable to get over disappointment and rejection.

Mulligan is almost always found in period pieces, and there’s a reason for that. The English actress, last seen in a breakout Sundance hit from 2017, “Mudbound,” is easily the best thing about this film, able to adapt to any situation in a believable and incredibly compelling way. Gyllenhaal is also good, as is young Australian actor Oxenbould. The film’s script, from first-time director Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, a wonderful acting pair in “Ruby Sparks,” is decent but not always interesting, and the film as a whole starts from a worthwhile place but becomes less and less engaging as it goes on, ultimately reaching a point that doesn’t seem to justify the journey.


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