You can assume the title of this film is supposed to be ironic, as it actually is about three very quiet lives in a remote part of the country. Directed by Paul Dano and based on a Richard Ford novel, Wildlife tells the story of a small family struggling to stay afloat in 1960s Montana.
I didn’t really expect to connect with Jake Gyllenhaal as Jerry Brinson, a 40’ish dad in a sleepy town, but he does a convincing job with the role. Carey Mulligan plays Jeanette, the stay-at-home mom who resents Jerry’s escape to a job fighting forest fires. She rebels against his abandonment by finding her own job and getting romantically entangled with a local auto dealer. The Brinsons’ son, 14-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould), is shy but more mature and observant than his parents in many ways.
All three roles easily could devolve into tiresome suburban clichés, but the individual strengths of the actors keep that from happening. Gyllenhaal puts a real face on the father who has trouble living up to the title of breadwinner, and Mulligan communicates Jeanette’s seething frustration well. Special kudos, however, are due to 17-year-old Oxenbould, whose sensitivity seeps through in every scene. Joe quietly absorbs his parents’ emotions and sincerely tries to help—which makes me appreciate his character (and the film) even more.
Should you see it? Yes, it’s a good choice for a tranquil evening. —J.J.