Jeanette, Jerry, and their son Joe (Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ed Oxenbould) live an idyllic family life in 1960s suburban America. Adapted from Richard Ford’s novel by Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, and directed by Dano, Wildlife placidly observes this family as it slowly unravels while wildfires rage in the nearby forest.
Wildlife is a gorgeously shot and meticulously acted portrait of a family in turmoil. When Jerry loses his job and Jeanette becomes the breadwinner their traditional family dynamic is disrupted and poor Joe is, like us, forced to simply stand by while the grownups in his life fail to act responsibly. The wildfires that are frequently referenced become an obvious reference for not just the unstoppable destruction heading for this nuclear family but also the slow burning pace of the film as a whole.
Wildlife is an impressively restrained debut. Dano has created an aesthetically pleasing picture and clearly knows when to give his actors space to do what they do best. Mulligan in particular shines here; showing roughly three conflicting emotions with each expression. Somehow the resulting film is slightly less than the sum of its parts however. While formally impressive and a pleasant watch Wildlife is unlikely to stick around once it has been seen; there’s something in the film’s restraint that stopped me getting fully involved.