Wildlife Review: Paul Dano’s incredible first outing is both beautiful and devastating.
Having a strong directorial debut means everything to an up and coming director as it can really set them on a path towards getting funding for more passion projects. Clearly Paul Dano, who you might recognize as an actor in films like Little Miss Sunshine, Prisoners, and There Will Be Blood, as his directorial debut is easily among the best of the year so far. His film Wildlife, based on the book of the same name by Richard Ford, truly captures the slow burn of frustration a family can go through that can lead to its destruction.
Dano has always been known for playing quieter characters and for his more subtle performances and he has placed this style into Wildlife’s heart. All of the emotions in it are slowly built up and are paced perfectly to lead to an emotional finale. Dano’s approach to this material will undoubtedly impact viewers as he constantly tugs at each of the audiences’ heartstrings with each scene that delves deeper into the family’s issues.
Dano’s subtlety also bled into the excellent performances from Ed Oxenbould, Carey Mulligan, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Oxenbould is definitely the stand-out of the film, to me, as his performance made his character, Joe, incredibly relatable. Even with his parents fighting, making selfish decisions, and even cheating on one another, he still wants the best for both of them and even though they might have stopped loving each other, Joe has not. Mulligan also puts in an excellent performance as audiences will really get a sense of her character, Jeannette’s, frustration as her husband loses his job and then leaves them behind to help fight Minnesota wildfires.
What impressed me the most, though, was Dano’s use of his 1960’s setting and the way he frame’s conversation off-camera. There are moments that Dano has off-screen conversations that focus more on the reactions of someone listening that really add some emotional weight to the smallest scenes. Seeing Joe’s reaction to him listening to his father losing his job rather than just us seeing the conversation head on, felt more powerful and it made me care so much more.
The setting is also incredibly well-used and really paints a picture on how suburban life is crushing their spirit. I always love a story that takes place towards the end of the “nuclear family” era of the 1950s as it showcases a changing time of thought. Women began to rise up and work for the household and people began to try to drive away from typical suburban living. Dano captures all of these themes throughout Wildlife, especially with Mulligan’s Jeannette as she is constantly desiring to leave her life as a housewife.
Wildlife undoubtedly deserves any and every sort of recognition it can get during awards season as it truly earns everything thanks to the amount of care from everyone involved. Even now I find myself wanting to read the book as I just can’t stop thinking about the incredible story Wildlife brings. It’s definitely a best of the year contender and if you can get the chance to see it, consider yourself a lucky individual.