FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2018 -- The fifties was a confusing time in the world and the United States especially. It was a time of giant social, political and technological advances. It was a struggle between civil oppression and civil rights, divisions between patriotism and anti-unAmerican conspiracies, and the clumsy segue from vacuum tubes to solid state.


And it was a time when women, empowered by the iconic Rosie-the-Riveter, were struggling with being housewives while their husband earned the money and joining the workforce and splitting duties with their spouses. That conflict is what brought about television shows like Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, Make Room for Daddy, Leave It To Beaver and the short-lived The Honeymooners. These were shows that reinforced the paternal anchored nuclear family.


When I watch films about the 50's like Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" and Sam Mendes' "Revolutionary Road" it's almost like watching a science fiction movie - hard to believe the life. Paul Dano's directorial debut is another stark reminder of how easy it was for a small family to fall apart while trying to cope with transitional times.

Carey Mulligan plays Jeanette Brinson is a housewife and mother raising a teenage boy - Joe (Ed Oxenbould) - in Montana. She is married to Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is a washed up golf pro who has settled into a job at a local golf club. [Keep in mind that Montana has less than 100 golf courses and what would be one of the shortest season on the planet.]


Jerry spends time helping his son learn how to play football. That's what you did back then...football or baseball. Jeanette, meanwhile, looks after the house and tries to keep books in order. That's a difficult thing because Jerry doesn't make much money.


He makes even less money after his boss sacks him. Now they are in dire straights and behind. Jeanette digs in and takes a job teaching swimming and Joe gets a job at a photography studio. Jerry though has little luck and is now starting to feel emasculated by the fact that his wife has to support the family. Soon thereafter, he takes a job fighting a runaway brush fire in another part of the state.


Jeanette feels as though he has abandoned the family and starts an affair with a local car dealer, Warren Miller (Bill Camp). Joe is confused as he watches the happy - or maybe not-so-happy - home quickly decay.


This is a nearly flawless look at the deconstruction of 1950's family values through the eyes of the child. Both Mulligan and Gyllenhaal are perfectly cast. Both look the classic "why me" role. Oxenbould ("The Visit") is also well cast as the innocent embodiment of a baby-boomer child - caught somewhere between sticking with the old ways and progressing to new ideas.


For Dano ("There Will Be Blood", "Swiss Army Man", "12 Years a Slave") is shows he was paying attention to Paul Thomas Anderson and Steve McQueen.


"Wildlife" is a terrific examination of the decay of a 1950's household that's struggling with being true to traditional values and moving forward into a different life.   -- GRADE A --   GEOFF BURTON