Paul Dano’s directorial debut comes in the form of Wildlife, a drama about a teenage boy who watches his parents’ marriage fall apart. The film reflects on the mess of relationships and takes parents off the pedestal that they are put on by their children.
Ed Oxenbould, looking spookily similar to Dano himself, plays Joe, a teenager living in Montana with his parents, Jeanette (a brilliant Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal). Dano shows the couple’s breakdown through Joe’s eyes and ears; we catch snatches of arguments through walls, and glimpses of his tearful parents, making for tense viewing as Joe’s stability is threatened by forces out of his own control.
The realisation that parents are normal people with flaws, and not the perfect adults that we think them to be as children, comes through especially in Jeanette. Joe watches the image of her that he’s had for so long fall to pieces throughout the film as she transforms into a stranger right in front of him. Carey Mulligan fills the role with a superbly subtle performance that softens some of the more on-the-nose lines of dialogue that occasionally appear and distract from the more naturalistic tone that the film is trying to create.
The film runs perhaps 20 minutes too long in its need to provide an epilogue to the events that have happened beforehand, and this does leave the ending feeling a little anticlimactic after a rather explosive confrontation. However, the final shot brings that feeling of uncertainty back as Joe considers what the future holds for himself and his family.
A competent debut, but perhaps too neat at times, Wildlife captures the feeling of the world falling away that comes with the separation of a family.
CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp
DIRECTOR: Paul Dano
WRITERS: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan (screenplay), Richard Ford (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A boy witnesses his parents’ marriage falling apart after his mother finds another man.