Actor Paul Dano is confident as a tyro director using a simmering angst prevalent in some of his finest performances (Love & Mercy, Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood).
The setting for his 1960 Wildlife is ‘Big Sky Country’ Montana where the relocated Brinson family is looking for positive change. Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal of Stronger and Nocturnal Animals) is unable to swallow his pride after being dismissed at the municipal golf venue. Jeannette (Carey Mulligan of Mudbound, Shame, An Education) gets what she can at the YMCA as a swimming instructor. Their 14-year-old son Joe (Ed Oxenbould of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) lands an apprenticeship at a portrait studio after school.
The primary vantage point is from Joe in what looks to be another coming-of-ager as he witnesses the disintegration a marriage as Dano effectively adapts Richard Ford’s novel with partner Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick, Ruby Sparks). At least until snowfall an arrogant Jerry opts to hook up with “deadbeats” trying to control a continuous conflagration. It’s up to Jeannette to be the breadwinner, and Joe notices her becoming more friendly with a wealthy, middle-aged owner of a car dealership (Bill Camp).
The lensing definitely has a realistic, unadorned quality with the horizon and snowy mountain caps offering a placidness. Similar to Oxenbould’s comportment which has an ambivalence to it being that he’s not outwardly angry with his mother but his clarity wanting to rally for his dad in some way. The script has an indicative leanness to it that is in sync with an expressive score from David Lang sensing an abiding longing. Dano’s direction is toned-down in a sly way that is very sound and offers its share of humor even an air of melancholy pales over the proceedings. While Gyllenhaal is respectable as the wayward, unreliable fellow, Wildlife often defies expectations and convention because of Mulligan’s shading of a sharp-witted, exasperated and coquettish character. A woman who ironically happened to be ahead of her time, unafraid to open up when necessary.