Time: 104 Minutes
Age Rating: Offensive language
Carey Mulligan as Jeanette Brinson
Jake Gyllenhaal as Jerry Brinson
Ed Oxenbould as Joe Brinson
Zoe Margaret Colletti as Ruth-Ann
Bill Camp as Warren Miller
Director: Paul Dano
Fourteen-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is the only child of Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) — 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.
I heard about Wildlife for a little while and I’ve been meaning to check it out. On top of it starring Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, two of the best actors working today, it’s the directorial debut of Paul Dano (a really good and underrated actor). I didn’t really know what to expect outside of that. Personally I found Wildlife to be a really good and engaging family drama with typically great performances from its lead actors.
Wildlife basically follows a dysfunctional family through the eyes of the parents’ child as the marriage falls apart. The script written by both Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan was really good. This movie isn’t given a particular structure of sorts, it feels more like it was showing periods of time. While as a result it could’ve felt like it could meander and feel unfocussed, something about it kept me on board from start to finish. It can be increasingly uncomfortable at times watching some of the family drama that unfolds but it did its job well, it really does feel like you’re watching this all happen from the child’s perspective. After everything that happens, the ending was a little abrupt and I could see people finding it to be underwhelming, there’s not really a complete conclusion to all of the characters and the story. However, for some reason it just really worked for me and I liked what they did with the ending.
Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are some of the best actors working today and they unsurprisingly delivered here. Between the both of them though, it’s Mulligan who shines the most as the mother of the family. While I definitely need to see more from her, this is at the very least among her best work. She demonstrates an incredible amount of range as the marriage between her and Gyllenhaal slowly falls apart. Jake Gyllenhaal is also really good as the father, you don’t really see him as much as you’d think but he was good when he was on screen. Ed Oxenbould plays the child of Mulligan and Gyllenhaal and he was good as well. Wildlife more or less follows the story from his perspective, and I think that is probably the reason why there’s not that much to him as a character. All I can remember about him as a character was that he was in the role of the child, I felt like I didn’t really know him by the end of the movie. Other actors like Bill Camp also play their parts well.
Paul Dano had a pretty good directing debut with Wildlife. It fully embraces the 1960s time period, from the production design, the costumes and the music. I know that given that the plot is set in the 60s it should feel like it, but they especially heavily leaned into it with this movie. Really everything including the cinematography was done well, and the movie feels smaller and intimate, which worked for the story.
Wildlife is an intimate and simple yet effective family drama, and has some great performances, particularly from Carey Mulligan. Paul Dano has demonstrated a lot of directing talent with this movie and I definitely would like to see more of his work behind the camera. Wildlife is definitely worth a watch whenever you can see it.