What have films such as Little Miss Sunshine, 12 Years a Slave and Okja got in common? That’s right. The American actor Paul Dano. After shining in more than thirty movies, Dano decided it was time to take place in the director’s chair for the first time and the final result is stunning.
The heart of Wildlife is without a doubt the chemistry between leading actors Jake Gyllenhaal (“Stronger“, “Southpaw“) and Carey Mulligan (“Drive“, “Shame”) who lift up the intriguing story to another level
After moving to different American cities, the Brinson family has finally settled down in Great Falls, Montana. Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) lives with her husband Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould (“Paper Planes”, “The Visit”)) in a small but cozy and graceful looking house.
While Jeanette is a housewife who’s taking care of Joe, Jerry is working as a personal assistant (or at least that’s what he thinks) on a golf course. It seems that after everything they have been going through, life is turning out fine for them.
Until Jerry gets fired from his job which has undeniable consequences for the family. While he’s desperately looking for work, Jeanette starts part-time teaching swimming lessons to seniors to earn some income. They barely make ends meet but when Jerry gets a phone call from his previous boss, things look very bright again.
However, he’s done with his job at the golf course and puts his pride above everything else for the first time. It causes even more pressure on the family and Jeanette begins working full time. Cracks in the relationship between Jeanette and Jerry are becoming clearly visible and when Jerry decides to be a firefighter far away from the family, Jeanette is going completely loose and off the rails.
As you can tell Wildlife is all about relationships and especially the strong family connection. It comes as no surprise that Dano decided to write the screenplay, based on the Richard Ford book, with his real-life wife actress Zoe Kazan (“The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs“, “The Big Sick”).
Together they made sure that the emotional and human aspects were preserved in this film and that the audience will be able to connect strongly with the characters who were portrayed in the most beautiful and gripping way.
The star of Wildlife is, without a doubt, Carey Mulligan. She’s incredibly spellbinding as Jeanette who finally wants to spread her wings to take her life into her own hands. Even if that might end up hurting her family more than she can imagine.
This means a more diverse, complex and certainly more mature role for Mulligan, who takes it on in the most astonishing way. With her two latest films before Wildlife, Suffragette and Mudbound, Mulligan won multiple prestigious awards and it would immensely well-deserved if this film could mean the same for her.
Jake Gyllenhaal is cast as Jerry Brinson, a man who clearly wants to achieve his own American dream of being socially well-respected by his peers and having not to deal with money problems at all. Not being able to do that leaves him exhausted, disappointed and someone with low self-esteem (despite not showing that to others).
Because of Gyllenhaal’s marvellous performance, both as the loving parent as well as the stubborn, headstrong and sometimes egoistic man, we feel the bitterness, insecurity, and angriness of Jerry.
Ed Oxenbould might not be as well-known as his co-stars but that might change soon. As Joe, who’s clearly suffering because of his parents’ problems, he’s highly dazzling and mesmerizing. Especially because most of his scenes focus on facial expressions. While both Mulligan and Gyllenhaal captivate us with the poignant dialogue, Oxenbould does it with human emotions.
Next years’ award season will be an immensely thrilling one. Ok, Wildlife might not be the frontrunner but that certainly doesn’t make Paul Dano’s film a bad one. On the contrary. It’s an incredibly strong film, in every aspect.
When it comes to the story, Dano and Kazan kept the most important fundamental: human emotions. No better couple to portray those emotions than Mulligan-Gyllenhaal, who both show us the inner soul of their characters and if you add Oxenbould as their son, you have the perfect trio for the Richard Ford story. Looking forward to seeing what director Dano will bring next to the big screen