Before Jake Gyllenhaal dives into our wonderful fantasy world known as the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ for Spider-Man: Far From Home, a polar opposite type of film starring Mr. Gyllenhaal comes your way on DVD. It’s rather refreshing when a story for the big screen revolves around common events that occur in people’s everyday lives and maintains a grounded approach with how it tells the narrative. Debut director Paul Dano ensures that is one of the strengths of Wildlife.
Originally a novel by Richard Ford, Wildlife explores the struggles of a family in the 1960s. Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) have recently moved to Montana with their son Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould). They are just getting by, and on the surface, seem to be happy with their lives until Jerry loses his job.
Jerry, as many men do (especially in the 60s), loses hope, and struggles without a job and being able to be the provider for his household. He then takes a terribly low paying job to help fight the fires that are taking place in the nearby mountains, which leaves his son Joe worried, and his wife Jeanette in a state of confusion as she feels abandoned by her husband.
We see the story unfold through Joe’s eyes, who is an innocent young boy, just trying to find his place at school and in life in general. As mentioned at the beginning, it’s refreshing when a narrative revolves around something so simple and relatable, and almost everyone can put themselves in each of these character’s shoes, especially Joe’s.
Ed Oxenbould is excellent, as the young actor carries a lot of scenes just through his use of facial expressions. His innocence, confusion, and frustration come out beautifully without him uttering a single word. Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan brilliantly shift to different phases of their respective characters.
We can all understand being stuck in a terribly uncomfortable situation with our parents, and in Wildlife, Paul Dano ensures we do not get quick exits from these particular situations. In real life, we cannot always escape these moments with a quick cut, and that’s why these long takes are so effective, it provides us with a dose of reality. We are in Joe’s shoes, and no matter how badly we wish to escape, we cannot. In an era of fast-paced editing, this approach may even shock some members of the audience.
The film also controls a lot of information, by telling you parts of the narrative through visuals alone. When Jeanette tells Joe about her lack of intimacy with his father, it’s not a revelation. We are told this earlier in the film through shots of both Jerry and Jeanette sleeping on the sofa instead of in their bedroom.
Wildlife does, however, leave us with some questions, and slightly underwhelming answers. Joe forms a friendship with Ruth (Zoe Margaret Colletti), which is one of the sweeter parts of the film, and their relationship seems to be forgotten. There is no satisfying conclusion to that particular part of the story. Also, the ease in which the issues between the main characters come to an end weakens the overall impact of the narrative as well.
Wildlife may be a shock to the system for some, and it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re looking for a slice of life tale, which rids us of cinematic techniques we are accustomed to seeing in our beloved blockbusters, then the Jake Gyllenhaal produced Wildlife is just for you.
Dir: Paul Dano
Prd: Jake Gyllenhaal, Oren Moverman
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Zoe Margaret Colletti
Scr: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan
DOP: Diego García
Running time: 105 minutes
Wildlife will be available on DVD on March 18th.