- 15 Nov 18
Carey Mulligan is mesmerizing in poetic portrait of unraveling family.
Carey Mulligan has repeatedly proven herself to be a masterful actress, able to embrace the strength and vulnerability of her characters, knowing that both traits are as true and necessary as the other.
Never before has this balancing act been so mesmerising as in Wildlife, the directorial debut of Paul Dano. Set in the 1960s and adapted from by Dano and his wife Zoe Kazan from a Richard Ford novel, this tenderly poetic film follows the crumbling marriage of working-class couple Jeanette and Jerry (Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal). Their story is told through the plaintive eyes of their 14-year-old son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould, superb). Joe sees it all; he is their witness, and our proxy. But Jeanette is the protagonist, and Mulligan ensures that, like Joe, we can never take our eyes off her.
The opening act of the film sees Jeanette happily play the role of the doting and dutiful wife. But as Jerry loses yet another job and leaves to fight forest fires, Jeanette realises that the exciting, upwardly mobile lifestyle she felt destined for will never materialise. So she decides to act. Almost overnight, she adopts a coldly seductive diva persona, abandoning any motherly duties, wearing provocative costumes, and cruelly flaunting her affair with a wealthy businessman in front of Joe.
Jeanette could have been abominable, but Mulligan injects a quivering, chin-wobbling vulnerability that betrays her scathing one-liners. Jeanette is desperate to survive, and will play any role necessary to do so.
In the face of such instability, Joe has to adopt an air of calm rationality in spite of his bewildered fear, carefully moving around his mother much like a lion tamer. Oxenbould's loneliness-filled performance echoes the Hopper-esque cinematography, as Dano's visuals capture the isolation that can linger behind the faade of respectable suburbia. Though the writerly dialogue can occasionally feel strained, and the influence of Revolutionary Road is inescapable, Wildlife is an assured debut.