Jim Gaffigan in sci-fi comedy SXSW – The Hollywood Reporter

The first clue that Linoleum is not a typical midlife crisis drama that arrives in the form of a cherry red convertible. In many ways, it’s exactly the cliche of a car a middle-aged man might buy in a desperate attempt to regain his lost youth. But protagonist Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan) doesn’t buy the car. Instead, he is in shock as he lands just feet from his letterbox, having fallen from a clear blue sky just minutes into the film.

Thus begins the strange chain of events that will push Cameron into a new perspective on what his life has been like. It takes time to Linoleum to fully unveil its big picture, though eagle-eyed viewers can start putting the pieces together much sooner. But thoughtful performances and earnest (if particularly subtle) writing keep the film sufficiently compelling until its final minutes, which are even more startling in their heartbreaking effectiveness than in their mind-bending twists.


The essential

Twisted and touching.

Location: SXSW Film Festival (narrative feature competition)
To throw: Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, Gabriel Rush
Director-screenwriter: Quake West

1 hour 41 minutes

When we first meet Cameron, he is already sinking into misfortune. Once a promising astronomy student at Cornell, he is now the host of a children’s science show that his Ohio television channel has banned from late-night time slots, when no children are actually awake for look. His marriage to Erin (Rhea Seehorn, terrific as always), formerly his co-host on the show, is on the verge of divorce. His father (Roger Hendricks Simon) is locked up in an aged care facility with dementia severe enough that he barely seems to recognize Cameron.

Into this disappointment of a lifetime comes this car, which is carrying a man that even Cameron has to admit looks “like a younger, prettier version of me.” Also played by Gaffigan – but with a harsh, glistening sheen that contrasts sharply with Cameron’s sweet resignation – Kent Armstrong shows up at Cameron’s job, moves across from Cameron’s house, and enrolls his teenage son Marc (Gabriel Rush) at school with Cameron’s teenage daughter, Nora (Katelyn Nacon). Meanwhile, a satellite has also fell from the sky into Cameron’s backyard, which Cameron sees as the perfect opportunity to build his own rocket and fulfill his thwarted astronaut dreams.

Initially, the plot seems to be set up for Cameron to throw a pity party in the most obnoxious way imaginable. (I mean, a rocket in a garage? Really?) And he does, complaining bitterly to Marc that instead of “doing something fantastic”, as he had always hoped to do in his youth, “I I’m stuck building a DIY rocket out of a pile of Apollo junk just to prove I’m worth a fuck.

But writer-director Colin West demonstrates a confident mastery of the film’s tone, layering melancholy, reverie and wry humor without leaning too far towards any of them. And although Cameron is the protagonist, Linoleum never loses sight of the other characters in its orbit – especially Nora, who begins to bond with Marc over their shared status as school misfits.

Separately, Cameron’s adult desperation and Nora’s journey of self-discovery could make for a decent little indie drama on their own. In conversation with each other, they become more than the sum of their parts. Cameron’s mourning for his wasted potential, or Erin’s ambivalence about her own mundane career at the Air and Space Museum, feel all the more acute when they see in Nora and Marc gleams of souls bolder than they must have been once. On the other hand, Nora and Marc’s hopes and fears for their future come true with their parents. Free-spirited Nora can see nothing of herself in her uptight mother, as she makes clear during one particularly vicious argument, while Marc gravitates towards Cameron as a kinder version of the cruel father than he has at home.

All the while, West sprinkles in eerie details that suggest there’s another layer to the relatively daily misfortunes of the Edwins and Armstrongs that we don’t yet see. The camera lingers on a broken helmet of a space suit, or a small car that looks like the one that crashed from the sky. Certain words and phrases return, taken up by one character and then another. A doctor (Tony Shalhoub) seems to communicate only through enigmatic and existential concepts: “I suggest that maybe the universe in our heads is more real than reality itself,” he advises a puzzled Cameron. An old woman (Elisabeth Henry) keeps showing up in Cameron’s suburban neighborhood to watch him silently from a distance.

To say too much would be to risk revealing Linoleum‘s secrets. Perhaps it is enough to warn that the film’s eventual resolutions follow loose emotional logic rather than airtight “rational” logic, and that despite the film’s ambiguous and magical sci-fi vibe, its greatest twists are intimate and personal. Linoleum is in many ways a small film, not much more than this limited circle of people trying to figure out how to understand their own lives – to make peace with a better future that never came, or to decide how to take take charge of their own lives. their own destinies, or sorting out the relationships that have always mattered to them. But the emotional punch it packs has the weight of entire lives behind it.

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