Downbeat family drama has mature material.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Wildlife is a 1960s-set drama about a disintegrating marriage and its effect on a 14-year-old boy. It's based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford and marks the directorial debut of actor Paul Dano. It has some iffy sexual material: A naked male bottom is shown, and extramarital sex is suggested. A married woman also flirts with and kisses another man. Characters have intense arguments, a mother slaps her son, and a man sets a house on fire with gasoline. A bloody cut is briefly shown. Language includes a use of "f--k," plus "goddamn," "hell," and more. Characters drink in several scenes, and a main character gets quite drunk. Characters also smoke cigarettes and cigars, and a teen tastes whiskey. The performances are strong, and there are touching moments, but the material is dispiriting and airless overall.
Beautifully acted film, pro-family themes, definitely for adults
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What's the Story?
In WILDLIFE, it's the early 1960s, and teen Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) has moved to a new house with his parents and is trying to do his best in school. But then his father, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), loses his job as a golf pro. Joe's mother, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), gets a job teaching swimming, and Joe himself begins working in a photography shop. After much sulking, Jerry decides to take a job as a volunteer firefighter, battling an enormous blaze that's threatening to take over the countryside. Jeanette doesn't take this news well and starts acting erratically. She drags Joe to a dinner at the home of the wealthy Warren Miller (Bill Camp) and keeps her son there for hours as she allows herself to be seduced. Miserable, Joe counts the days until the snows begin and his father can come home, in the hopes that things can be set right again.
Is It Any Good?
The directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, this dispiriting domestic drama is somewhat salvaged by its dedication to fine acting and by moments of stillness in which such acting can flourish. Based on a novel by Richard Ford (but feeling rather unlike Ford at the same time), Wildlife sometimes plays like a David Lynch-ian nightmare, in which characters sit around stiffly and speak banalities that cover up their true, roiling emotions. It's probably supposed to take place in a world before people spoke so openly about their feelings, but at the same time, it can't seem to find the connection between the characters' external actions and internal desires.
Gyllenhaal isn't on-screen long enough to flesh out his character, but his Jerry has some touching moments, especially his goodbye to his son before he leaves for the fire. Mulligan is the movie's centerpiece. With her "old soul" and pain-filled eyes, she takes the disconnect between her life and her inner turmoil and squeezes it together into madness. Jeanette's deterioration is truly disturbing, and yet somehow touching, too. Oxenbould's Joe is a passive character, mostly observing, mostly obedient, but the actor allows quiet, revealing moments of hurt to seep through, and he's heartbreaking. Camp is also quite good, somehow making his character into more of an enigma than a creep. It's not an easy watch, but Wildlife is an interesting calling card for Dano.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Wildlife's sexual content. Is it graphic? Are things shown or suggested? How does the sex scene affect your view of the characters involved?
How are drinking and smoking depicted? What makes the characters turn to drinking? Is it glamorized? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?
Are the characters likable? Are they forgivable? Do you root for them to stay together? What makes them interesting?
Does the movie's violence seem gratuitous, or does it follow the logic of the movie? What's the difference?
If you've read the book, how does the movie compare?
- In theaters: October 19, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: May 26, 2020
- Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould
- Director: Paul Dano
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including a sexual situation, brief strong language, and smoking
- Last updated: January 9, 2023
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