Wildlife movie poster

Actor Paul Dano’s move into directing, co-writing, and co-producing for Wildlife probably won’t attract anything like the attention that Bradley Cooper’s similar turn for A Star is Born has, and it’s a pity, because it’s a strong (if awfully sad, though not self-pityingly so) debut and a better film, built around a remarkably similar theme: simultaneous (and related) male collapse and female empowerment in the midst of a marriage. The big difference here, storywise, is that there’s a kid around to catch the fallout. Carey Mulligan opens the proceedings seemingly content to pour her strength and genius into the project of supporting restless husband Jake Gyllenhaal and teenage son Ed Oxenbould, but when Jake makes it clear that he’s looking for meaning and purpose outside the home — in this case, fighting a wildfire up in the mountains above their small Montana town — she finds she can’t help but reassess. Mulligan is compelling and convincing as a woman becoming who she may have been all along, but the film doesn’t pretend that the end result is glorious, or that the emergence isn’t painful for all concerned. Throughout the process, Mulligan trembles like a souffle on the verge of collapse, and her unfortunate son can do little but watch and listen and do his best to grow up much too fast. Truth be told, it’s his story — but it’s Mulligan’s movie. 2018.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.


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