In Paul Dano’s evocative and emotional directorial debut, a teenage boy (Ed Oxenbould) in 1960s Montana experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and his mother’s (Carey Mulligan) struggle to keep their lives afloat after his father (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves.
In Wildlife, his striking directorial debut, actor Paul Dano joins a canon of filmmakers who have explored the meaning — and the cost — of the American dream. Collaborating with co-writer Zoe Kazan, Dano chooses for his version a coming-of-age story, set in the postwar American Midwest, told through a feminist lens.
When Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job at the local golf course, his wife, Jeannette (Carey Mulligan), and their 14-year-old son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould), look for work of their own. Awakening her fiery spirit and charm, Jeannette convinces the local YMCA to give her a job as a swimming instructor. Joe, for his part, lands a gig at a local photography studio. Too prideful to look for work in town, Jerry instead joins in fighting the nearby wildfires. Alone for the first time in years, Jeannette finds herself with more independence than she can deal with. When she is befriended by one of her students, she begins to question her circumstances and her choices. Cautious and curious, Joe must learn how to navigate the complex dynamics of adult relationships and decide what to make of the woman who used to just be Mom. As simmering tensions begin to boil, the Brinsons must decide if their family is worth saving.
Cinematographer Diego Garcia's clean aesthetic, the film's authentic period design and Dano's precise, mannered direction ground the film in time and place, bringing focus to the characters. Featuring powerful performances from Mulligan, in what is perhaps her meatiest role to date, Gyllenhaal, and Oxenbould, Wildlife — based on Richard Ford's 1990 novel — paints a portrait of a family and an America ready to explode.