In a beautifully nuanced directing debut, actor Paul Dano (the brother in Little Miss Sunshine) mines the smallest details in Richard Ford’s acclaimed 1990 novel — he and his partner Zoe Kazan wrote the emotionally-attuned script — to create a portrait of a woman who can’t quite catch up with the frustration and feminist stirrings she feels inside.
Carey Mulligan delivers one of her finest performances to date as Jeanette, a complex woman whose self-determination and self-involvement disrupts the values and expectations of a 1960s nuclear family. 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. Suddenly forced into the role of an adult, Joe witnesses his mother’s struggle as she tries to keep her head above water. With precise details and textures of its specific time and place, the film commits to the viewpoint of a teenage boy observing the gradual dissolution of his parents’ marriage.
Wildlife leaves you deeply moved with a vital take on a woman who stops tamping down her feelings and forges a new identity out of the ashes of her past. Jeanette does not want to join the “standing dead,” a term for trees that survive a forest fire. She yearns for something more than getting by. The question is: How can she manifest her independence without damaging her already fragile family unit?
The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and also screened as the opening night film in La Semaine de la Critique at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
USA 2018, 100 min, rated M (offensive language)
Directed by Paul Dano
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Bill Camp, Ed Oxenbould & Zoe Margaret Colletti