Wildlife

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Four­teen-year-old Joe Brin­son (Ed Ox­en­bould) is a good boy. He does well in school and he re­spects his par­ents, who have re­cently moved the fam­ily to Mon­tana. As the nar­ra­tive of Wildlife un­folds, we learn that it is the lat­est in a se­ries of moves around the west­ern part of the coun­try. Joe’s fa­ther, Jerry (a weary Jake Gyl­len­haal), is a golf pro who is some­times un­em­ployed. His mother, Jeanette (Carey Mul­li­gan), has worked as a pub­lic-school teacher but is now stay­ing home to take care of her fam­ily. It is 1960 — still sev­eral years be­fore the fem­i­nist move­ment — so Jerry steers the house­hold as a mat­ter of course. Jeanette is his stal­wart cheerleader, although his in­abil­ity to earn a con­sis­tent pay­check and stay in one place ob­vi­ously grates on her. She is ed­u­cated and full of ideas, but he tends to wave off her ad­vice as he sips a beer and lis­tens to base­ball on the ra­dio. Hus­band and wife ap­pear worn down by life, de­spite be­ing in their mid-thir­ties, while both also seem like over­grown chil­dren. Per­haps this is why Joe is preter­nat­u­rally re­spon­si­ble, well-man­nered, and ca­pa­ble of play­ing his emo­tions close to the vest as he watches his par­ents’ mar­riage dis­in­te­grate.

Wildlife, based on the 1990 novel by Richard Ford, is ac­tor Paul Dano’s de­but fea­ture as writer and di­rec­tor. It is an old-fash­ioned fam­ily drama made with­out much flash, save for stun­ning, sit-up-in-your-seat cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Diego Gar­cía. Per­for­mances are uni­formly — and chill­ingly — ex­cel­lent. Mul­li­gan plays Jeanette as a slow-burn­ing mess. It’s dif­fi­cult to tell, from one mo­ment to the next, if she’s just go­ing through a hard time or if she’s los­ing her mind.

As Joe, Ox­en­bould is the ar­che­typal du­ti­ful son who is sud­denly old enough to be the re­cip­i­ent of far too much in­for­ma­tion about his par­ents’ in­ner lives. Af­ter Jerry leaves the fam­ily to go fight a wild­fire, we see the weight of fear and con­fu­sion mount in Joe’s eyes. He’s not try­ing to keep his par­ents to­gether so much as to make sure he has some­thing to eat for din­ner. His par­ents love him, but they don’t know what they’re do­ing. Late in the movie, when Joe walks into a po­lice sta­tion think­ing he will find his fa­ther there, you half ex­pect him to turn him­self over as a ward of the state. Wildlife takes place be­fore di­vorce was com­mon­place, be­fore a kid like Joe might in­tuit where all the dis­cord might be headed. All he knows is that what­ever safety “home” once rep­re­sented is dis­ap­pear­ing un­der his feet. — Jen­nifer Levin

Rated PG-13. 104 min­utes. Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts; Vi­o­let Crown. See re­view;

Nu­clear fam­ily: Ed Ox­en­bould, Carey Mul­li­gan, and Jake Gyl­len­haal

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