For my second day at the London Film Festival I saw a pair of debut features from Paul Dano and Boots Riley before finishing up with Ben Wheatley’s latest film about which I had previously known nothing. The theme of the day was probably slight disappointment but will I ever learn to not raise my expectations too high?
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.
Wildlife screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 15th October before being released in the UK on 9th November.
Sorry to Bother You
If Dano’s debut is defined by his restraint then Boots Riley is sprinting in the opposite direction. Acting as both writer and director Riley brings us a world almost like our own but dialled up to eleven. The volume of ideas that fill most films are churned through each minute as Riley satirises capitalism, race relations, and anything else that comes into view.
The plot centers on Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield), a newly employed telemarketer who discovers he can outsell his co-workers by applying his “white voice” (David Cross) when on the phone. As Cassius moves up in his company he finds himself in conflict with his activist and performance artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and entangled in a company that offers a worry free existence to those willing to sign away their human rights. This is a film willing to show how modern capitalism could justify the reinvention of slavery but does so with the visual flair of a restrained Michel Gondry.
Sorry to Bother You exists in a world one step away from our own; Riley makes liberal use of magical realism elements that allow his imagination to run wild and not be constrained by the laws of human nature, physics, or decency. This is a defiant and confident debut from a writer-director with a lot to say. Riley deals with themes that carry a lot of weight but handles then with such irreverence that you can’t help but have fun. Please go see this because if I type any more I will spoil the plot.
Sorry to Bother You screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, and 14th October before being released in the UK on 7th December.
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.
Flying solo from his regular collaborator Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley has set out on his own to make a part-improvised family drama shot in under two weeks. The titular Colin (Neil Maskell) has hired a large stately home to bring his disparate and dysfunctional family together for New Year’s Eve. While his aim is to peacock in front of his family the evening quickly becomes overshadowed by his father’s financial troubles, his mother’s imbalance, and the fact that his sister has invited estranged brother David (Sam Riley) along to reconcile a miriad of differences.
With a feel closest to Wheatley’s oldest film, Down Terrace, Colin Burstead has a loose, handheld aesthetic. The cameras follow the action as best they can as the ever growing list of characters interact in seemingly infinite combinations. This is a film filled with conflict and tension; a tone that starts from the very beginning and doesn’t relent or fluctuate until the credits roll over an exuberant disco.
This unrelenting flow of talk and tension makes the film exhausting to watch. And while the dialogue is incredible funny and relatable the film keeps promising to implode in a way it never fulfils. A neat addition to the Wheatley canon but not my personal favourite.
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, 13th, and 21st October before being released on BBC Two this winter.