Paul Dano, in his early 30’s is an excellent actor who has been seen in a diverse range of films from COWBOYS AND ALIENS to 12 YEARS A SLAVE. He has delivered outstanding performances in his films, the best of which is with Daniel Day Lewis, holding his own with the multiple Oscar Winner in P.T. Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD in which a troubled teen learns of life.
Having proven his active chops, Dano has now taken on directorial reins in a new film again centring on a troubled teen. Dano also co-wrote the script with his partner Zoe Kazan, this giving the film a female point of view. It is familiarity that Dano has dealt with and it is of no surprise that the actor he has chosen to play the 14-year old protagonist, Joe looks somewhat like a younger version of himself.
The film is set in 1960, Montana. Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) have recently moved to Great Falls, Montana with their teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). Tensions build after Jerry is fired from a low esteemed job as a golf pro at a country club. He is offered his old job back but refuses out of pride, and instead of looking for work, he sleeps in his car and watches the local firefighting efforts against a forest fire raging in nearby mountains. To support the family as Jerry looks for a job, Jeannette takes a job as a swimming instructor, while Joe works at a local photography studio. One day, Jerry decides to take a low-paying job fighting the forest fire, which upsets Jeannette and worries Joe. Jeannette speaks openly about her strained marriage with Jerry to Joe, and the stress of the situation takes a minor toll on Joe’s school life.
While Jerry is away, Jeannette becomes romantically involved with one of her students, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a rich older man who owns an automobile dealership. Fireworks begin when Jerry returns and Jeannette announces that she is moving out – all this inferno of and to Joe’s dismay.
WILDLIFE s a simply told family drama but one told with conviction. The mountains and icy landscape look stunning in the background, reflecting the loneliness of people in the vast surroundings. Dana connects the audience with both points of view, that of the mother and the father but it is the story of the young son. “I surprised myself and had a good time. Did you?” asks the mother to Joe and one point int he film, illustrating how the film looks from the woman’s point of view and then when there is no answer from the son, switches perspective back to the son.
The desperation of the mother is what propels the family woes. She tells Joe after Joe catches her making out with Miller. “He wants to make it better. Maybe you got a better plan. I wish I was dead.”
It is a common story of father leaving home to get a decent job while mother becomes restless. There is really nothing Joe can do. He wants to keep the family together, but all he can do is to say how each misses the other.
Dana keeps his film on track as Joe’s coming-of-age passage as he is forced to navigate the complex dynamics of adult relationships and figure out what to make of the woman who used to be just Mom. A well paced family drama with real characters from Paul Dana.