A father who is failing as a provider for his family, a mother trying to break free of her predefined role, and their son who is caught in-between, all the while living in the overtly masculine northwest. Wildlife is beautifully photographed with a hypnotic performance from Carey Mulligan.
The young adults in Wildlife can’t seem to settle down, even if they are raising a child that needs stability in his life. The mother, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), is a doting housewife, who wants to do more than just sit at home, while waiting for her husband to hear about his day and let him go find a game on the radio while she does the dishes. The husband, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a former golfer and now a golf pro in small town country club in 1960s Montana. Jerry can’t keep a job, keeps moving his family around for a better opportunity, to the dismay of his son. In this Wildlife they lead, the parents are caught between the ambitions they still have left, and a family that should be planting roots. Soon Jerry joins a group of men who fight forrest fires, for little pay and a lot of risk, because a man needs more out of life, even if it means it will hurt his own family.
The film was directed by Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood), a fine actor who has starred in numerous great films for years, and was co-written by his partner Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick, and one of my favourites, Ruby Sparks). They do a fine job capturing the disorientation of a teenager being moved to the middle of nowhere in the overtly masculine northwest while feeling alienated by his parent’s selfish choices of not accepting their roles as providers, which happened too early for them. Their son is played by Ed Oxenbould (The Visit), who seems to be the only mature one in the family. Gyllenhaal continues to build an eclectic filmography of vastly different male characters, depicting Jerry’s failings as a father, a provider, and feels less of a man because of it. The film though is a showcase for Mulligan, whose performance is hypnotic, leaning on her son for mature guidance, a victim of the era she was born into, and trying to break free of her predefined role society has chosen for her.
Wildlife is beautifully shot, with some of the most gorgeous frontier scenes put on film this year, rivalling The Rider. The film has a great sense of time and place, with one of the film’s best scenes comes when Mulligan’s Jeanette decides to play hooky with her son and drive up north near the Forrest fires on the Canadian border. They drive past the workers, puts herself, and even her son, uncomfortably close to the blaze, showing the real power of the flames rolling down hill, symbolising the deep-seeded unrest felt as Jerry’s abandonment has evoked within her. It’s mesmerising. Joe, caught between her mother and quite literally, the fire, is the most perplexed teenager in America at that moment.
Wildlife can come to a standstill at times, with its deliberate pace and unsatisfying ending being some mild flaws. Dano and Kazan though more than make up for it with a finely adapted script from the book of the same name from Richard Ford that is stunningly acted, beautifully photographed, and comes vividly to life.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.