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By Megan Bianco
Nine years after co-starring in the 2009 drama Brothers, Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan reunite in another dysfunctional family drama right before Halloween. Fellow film actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut of Richard Ford’s 1990 novel Wildlife doesn’t take place in the jungle or woods, but in a small Montana town. Actors experimenting with directing can be hit or miss, and fortunately, this is mostly a case of the former.
In the late 1950s, Jerry Bison (Gyllenhaal) grows depressed after losing his job, and his straight-laced, pretty wife, Jeanette (Mulligan), doesn’t know how to cope. As she decides to get a part-time job, their teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) gets his first job and first girlfriend (Zoe Margaret Coletti) at school. But things fall even further apart when Jerry suddenly takes on fulltime work away from home and Jeanette reacts by seeing an older, richer man (Bill Camp) from the city.
The script for Wildlife was co-adapted by Dano’s real-life girlfriend, actress Zoe Kazan. The period piece really doesn’t bring anything new to the tale we’ve seen before on a family breaking up in mid-20th century society. And with the two indie actors helming the feature, one might assume that it would border on pretentious. Dano plays it straight as a filmmaker, though, and works with three very talented stars. Glenn Close and Lady Gaga might have some new competition for Best Actress with Mulligan, and Oxenbould does a lot with what’s essentially a reactionary performance. What Wildlife lacks in uniqueness it makes up for with the acting.