A 2K Criterion Bluray of Paul Dano‘s Wildlife pops on 5.26. An impressively composed debut effort and certainly well acted, Wildlife is arguably the most grotesque infidelity drama of the 21st Century, not to mention the most cruel of heart.
The Criterion web page calls this early ’60s small-town drama, based on a Richard Ford novel, “a deeply human look at a woman’s wayward journey toward self-fulfillment in the pre-women’s-liberation era.” The use of “wayward” alludes to a mother (Carey Mulligan) cheating on her absent firefighter husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) with a rich Uriah Heep (Bill Camp) while her teenage son (Ed Oxenbould) looks on. Indeed — Mulligan all but invites Oxenbould to take part.
One glance at Oxenbould tells you he couldn’t possibly be the biological son of Mulligan and Gyllenhaal. He couldn’t be a distant nephew. And yet — this is interesting — he could easily be the son of Dano and co-screenwriter Zoey Kazan, who’ve been romantically partnered since 2007.
Paul Dano’s Wildlife is not a three-character domestic drama about a peevish, beer-drinking father (Jake Gyllenhaal) regarding his wife and son (Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould) from a distance. If the Criterion cover was honest it would show Oxenbould looking through a bedroom window with horror as he watches Mulligan doing it doggy-style with Bill Camp.
From “Wildlife Turndown,” posted on 1.20.18: “Paul Dano‘s Wildlife is a sluggish but otherwise strongly directed middle-class horror film — cold, creepy, perverse. I admired Dano’s visual discipline (handsome compositions, a restrained shooting style, extra-scrupulous 1960 period design) and Carey Mulligan‘s fascinating performance as a youngish cheating mom in a small Montana town. But it’s a funereal gloom movie, and it makes you feel like you’re sinking into a cold swamp.
“On top of which I was appalled — astonished — by the cruel, self-destructive behavior of this sad 34 year-old woman, whose name is Jeanette, and particularly by her decision to invite her 14 year-old son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) to almost participate in some extra-marital humping with a rich, small-town fat guy (Bill Camp) while her irresponsible husband Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) is off fighting a forest fire with local volunteers.
“Yes, the screenplay (by Dano and Zoey Kazan) is an adaptation of a 1990 Richard Ford novel so blame Ford, right? But who dreams up stuff like this? And what kind of mother has ever injected this kind of sexually odious poison into her son’s life?
“Infidels hide their affairs, particularly from their kids. But Jeanette more or less whispers in her son’s ear, ‘I dunno but I kinda like this balding Uriah Heep…he’s rich and definitely not your father, and so I’m feeling flirty and thinking about…well, I’ve said enough.’ And the kid just stares at her like she’s some kind of conniving ghoul from a Vincent Price flick. Later she says she’s miserable and almost ready to kill herself, but that doesn’t negate the earlier thing.
“So Wildlife is partly admirable, yes, but mostly an endurance test. The feeling of watching it is something like ‘all right, this is grim and getting grimmer but I can handle it…I certainly love Mulligan and Gyllenhaal’s acting but Oxenbould…the kid is torture. He doesn’t look like Carey or Jake, of course — familial resemblance almost never happens in movies — but he wears the exact same expression in every scene in the film…a look of intimidation, anxiety, quiet horror, shock, dread…every damn scene.”
“But Dano knows how to visually compose and and maintain a certain austere style, and Mulligan is always peak-level, no matter the role.”