A boy (Ed Oxenbould) witnesses his parents’ marriage falling apart after his mother (Carey Mulligan) finds another man.
Paul Dano’s directorial debut sees a 60s set drama that gives audience absolutely no qualms about his talent behind the camera in comparison to the talent he has in front of it. Based on the book by Richard Ford, Dano partners with real life partner Zoe Kazan, who previously wrote (and starred in) 2012’s Ruby Sparks to bring the book to screen with the help of Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan as Jerry and Jeanette, parents of Joe whose family life is splintered when Jerry leaves to battle wildfires in order to make some money for the family.
Through the eyes of Joe we see how he handles his mother who when left alone decides to make a better life for herself when she starts seeing car salesman Warren (Bill Camp). While Ed Oxenbould is clearly the main protagonist of the film, it’s Mulligan’s performance that truly stands out. It takes a slightly rocky opening act for her to begin to shine but once Gyllenhaal’s character is out of the way she steals every scene she’s in. Her resentment of Jerry leaving her alone to look after Joe brings out a previously hidden ache to become more independent, leaving her son alone in the process. Mulligan pulls off the internal struggle perfectly thanks to Kazan and Dano’s expertly written script.
For his directorial debut, Paul Dano has chosen an interesting subject to explore and manages to prove with relative ease, that he could very well have an impressive new career laid out for him in the future. Managing to capture some truly gorgeous shots with the titular wildfire cautiously burning away in the unseen background of a heated plot but never focused on just enough to send the message across.
Despite the strong performance from Mulligan the fact that the film focuses on the Oxenbould’s character leaves much to be desired. While Oxenbould gives a fine enough performance it’s utterly eclipsed by Mulligan which makes it all the more irritating when everything she does is seen through Joe’s perspective. Though it’s an interesting way in which to tell the story and comes direct from the short novel upon which it is based, there’s not enough in Joe to give an interesting narrative drive from him. While there are the slightest of hints of the impact his mothers life is having on his own with his interaction with a fellow student in the film, it is not focussed on as much as it should have been in order to fully bring the idea to fruition.
The Ugly Truth
At it’s most impressive, Wildlife proves to anyone who doubted him that Paul Dano has just as much talent behind the camera as in front of it while further solidifying the fact that Carey Mulligan is the amazing actress we all know and love. It’s just a shame that the desire to follow the source material’s narrator in the adaptation doesn’t work nearly as well as if it had been Mulligan the camera had followed instead.