Wildlife, co-written and directed by Paul Dano, was a hypnotically peaceful experience that I willingly fell into and slowly drifted along with on its emotionally tumultuous journey. Offering some of the most effective character study of a family who I was completely engrossed with and wholly empathetic too; Wildlife was a film that immediately grabbed a hold of my heart and subsequently never lost it. This is going to be a review that I will lovingly get to write, as it will be a about a film that I found to be truly moving and wonderfully made. So, let’s get to it.
After Jerry Brinson – played by Jake Gyllenhaal – loses his job, he begins to spiral into an unhealthy place, both physically and mentally. He decides to abandon his family for a job that doesn’t pay well and could cost him his life. He leaves at home his wife, Jeanette – played by Carey Mulligan – and his son, Joe – played by Ed Oxenbould – who both react very differently to Jerry leaving. This will be a difficult new reality for Joe and Jeanette, and neither will have an easy time dealing with it.
Wildlife might be one of the most adept explorations of the American nuclear family and the slow destruction of it at the hands of the American dream. This is a character driven drama through-and-through. The time we spend with the Brinson family is what our journey is all about, and it is a journey I quickly found myself completely enamoured with – despite the melancholy tone of said journey.
At the centre of this film are three incredibly layered, troubled characters. You have Jerry who feels defeated and without hope of a prosperous future – despite his tireless efforts to provide everything for his family and deliver a good upcoming for his son – and who submits to alcohol to try to ease his struggles. Jeanette who reacts in a way that creates an interesting moral dilemma for the audience, and Joe who is trapped in the middle of an imploding marriage and whom is our emotional anchor to it all.
Starting with Jerry first: he is a character you empathise with; who you care for almost immediately. You can see how hard he has tried – and how hard he is trying – to be a good man who provides everything his family could need, but unfortunately the world just isn’t in his favour. It means he must make rash decisions for not only the sake of his family but also the for the sake of himself. It’s in this broken character that we as always get a faultless performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s work like this why I consider him to be my favourite actor working right now. He always delivers. The roles he chooses are challenging and nuanced, and his talent is boundless. The sadness he brings to Jerry; the uncontrollable rage that escapes from him. These are all parts of Gyllenhaal’s performance, and because of them I found myself infinitely bonded to the experience in this film.
But it isn’t just Jerry and it isn’t just Gyllenhaal. On the other side of the tear that separates the Brinson family is Jeanette. A mother who begins to re-think her place in the world, and who wants to be more than just a housewife. The interesting dilemma that comes from the character of Jeanette is that, while it’s rewarding and uplifting to see her transform into who she wants to be, it does end up happening at the expense of Joe’s wellbeing.
Jeanette’s actions show a woman who felt trapped and tiered of the life she had been given, and so watching her go out and try to attain what she wanted was a journey for the character that I found extremely compelling to be a part of. But where the problem then came in, was that some of the decisions she was making were ones that were tearing the family apart and severely effecting Joe’s emotional wellbeing. She makes him a part of things he shouldn’t be, and it takes a character you once cared for and sympathised with and flips your view of them. It had me of two minds when I looked at her. I understood why she wanted something new, but I also couldn’t understand her way of going about it.
As you can imagine, such a dilemma made the struggle within the Brinson family all the more engaging to watch. I was so invested in seeing how things would play out and I was so emotionally drawn to the film, that I didn’t want anything to ever interrupt it. I was so gripped by this film that it was one I didn’t want to finish. I wanted to stay with the family and continue to share in their tough but meaningful journey.
And much like Jake Gyllenhaal and his brilliant performance; Carey Mulligan also delivers a mesmerising piece of work. It was so mesmerising that it currently stands as one of my favourite performances of the year. Both Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould deliver brilliant performances – and I’ll be exploring Oxenbould more in just a moment – but Mulligan steals every single scene she’s in and was such a presence in the film that I couldn’t – nor did I want to – look anywhere else but in her direction.
But with a character that’s so… unhealthy in her mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mulligan offers such a compelling performance. She has so much to work with and is able to indulge in such powerful emotions, that it means that in every scene she’s free to traverse heartache and loneliness to fulfilment and joy. It’s a performance that’s ever evolving and forever engrossing to watch. I really do hope that during the coming award season her work is given the recognition it deserves.
With all that being said though, I don’t want to take away from the character of Joe or the performance by Ed Oxenbould. In terms of Joe, he’s the character who I think has the most to offer the audience – which is incredible when you consider how much Jerry and Jeanette already offer. He’s a son trapped in between two parents who no longer love one another (though they may not both initially realise it) and Joe understandably wants nothing more than for his seemingly perfect family to continue as they were. Seeing the desperation in his emotions or watching on as he tries to keep them together; you can’t help but feel for him. It breaks your heart to watch it happen; knowing you can’t do anything but watch.
It’s with such a tortured character that Oxenbould is able to deliver such a memorable performance. So much of how he’s feeling isn’t in what he says, but how he says is. You read the emotion on his face, you hear it in his voice, and it hurts to see – to know – that for Joe things will never be the same again. Oxenbould captures that beautifully, and the young actor does an outstanding job; especially standing next to two seasoned actors who have given some incredible performances over the years (including their ones in Wildlife). I wasn’t that familiar with his work before this film, but that will be changing going forward.
And all of this wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t for Paul Dano and his writing partner Zoe Kaszan. First off, this is a stellar directorial debut from Dano. Clearly over his time as an actor he’s picked up a few tricks of the trade – he has worked with some of the best directors on Hollywood, which I’m sure helped. But I also think it’s because Dano is such a lover of cinema that he was able to so effortlessly create this film. He’s now both an actor I eagerly wait to see in a film and now also a director I eagerly wait to see a new film from. But it’s also in the wonderful writing by Dano and Kazan that life comes bursting from this film. Their dialogue, the simplicity of its plot and meaningfulness in which it’s all handled made what was already great, even better.
So, what you end up getting with Wildlife is oddly… a very peaceful feeling, yet emotionally overwhelming experience. It’s a film that’s often drifting along at a very calming, inviting pace, and so when it does jostle things unexpectedly, it’s all the more effective. As the intensity of the emotions rise and the fury of the characters is unleashed, you’ll find yourself being pulled deeper into the film; caring even more and wishing – much like Joe – that everything could just work out fine. It all led to a final scene that completely broke me. I remember so vividly sitting there and genuinely holding back tears. It was because in that moment – more than any moment – I understood Joe and his story. I could fully empathise and connect to what life now was for him. It was utterly moving.
There is no doubt in my mind; I absolutely recommend, Wildlife. Please go see this film! Please go support this film. And hopefully! Hopefully you’ll come away from this film with the same level of peaceful fulfilment that I did.
Please share with me your thoughts on both Wildlife itself, and my review of it! If you’re interested, please consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – and help me to grow this passion into something more. Finally: Thank you. Coming here and reading my silly little ramblings means so much to me and unfortunately all I can give back to you is my thanks, so thank you and have a wonderful day!