A teenage boy must deal with his mother’s complicated response after his father temporarily abandons them to take a menial and dangerous job. A teenage boy must deal with his mother’s complicated response after his father temporarily abandons them to take a menial and dangerous job.
Fourteen-year-old Joe is the only child of Jeanette and Jerry — a housewife and a golf pro — in a small town in 1960s Montana. Nearby, an uncontrolled forest fire rages close to the Canadian border, and when Jerry loses his job — and his sense of purpose — he decides to join the cause of fighting the fire, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves.
Paul Dano is noteworthy for his roles in the likes of There Will Be Blood and Love & Mercy, both worth seeing if you haven’t already, but here he takes a seat in the director’s chair. With Wildlife, Dano explores the intricacies and damage of ailing marriages and the impact not just on the couple but also on their children as well.
Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) have moved to Montana with their teenage son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould) fora new life. A lot of Js here! All seems well initially until Jerry loses his job at a golf country club and even though he is offered it back, he refuses such is his pride. Plunging into days of heavy drinking and laying around without a care in the world, Jerry becomes a liability and the family’s future looks perilous. This forces Jeanette to go out to work herself in the hope of paying the bills but the cracks in her marriage to Jerry have now begun and looking on Joe is helpless to do anything but watch as the battle lines are drawn.
Dano’s intimate study of an ordinary American family breaking apart has a lot of positives but there are some weaknesses here as well. Gyllenhaal rarely disappoints and he delivers another memorable performance here. However, he is overshadowed by Oxenbould who conveys amazing depth and fragility in the innocent Joe. The main plaudits though belong to Mulligan as Jeanette, a woman driven to do what is right for her family no matter the cost to herself. Mulligan’s portrayal is simply heart-rending at times and it is not hard to sympathise with her. The issues with Wildlife for me were partly with the narrative, the focus changing with one character dwelt on for a time before moving to another. It doesn’t feel like all characters are as fully explored as they could have been. The performances are still fantastic though and Dano shows himself to be a talent behind as well as in front of the camera.
Verdict: A heart-rending portrayal of a failing family with Mulligan the undoubted star of the show.