LINOLEUM Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Colin West
Stars: Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacron, Gabriel Rush, Roger Hendricks Simon, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Ian Black, Elisabeth Henry, Amy Hargreaves.
The latest feature for writer/director Colin West, the low budget Linoleum is a mind-bending, quirky and almost incomprehensible mix of sci-fi, absurdist comedy and dysfunctional family drama that ultimately fails to really connect with an audience.
Stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan plays Cameron Edwin, a man of science, whose youthful dreams of becoming an astronaut have never really come to fruition, leading to a sense of frustration and failure. He hosts an educational science-based program on late night television aimed at children called Above And Beyond along with his wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn, from Better Call Saul, etc) who is also a well-educated scientist in her own right. But his marriage is in trouble and the highly strung Erin wants a divorce, creating some tension within the household. Meanwhile his rebellious teenaged daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacron, from The Walking Dead, etc) has become attracted to the introverted Marc (Gabriel Rush, from Moonrise Kingdom, etc), a new kid at school. Both are misfits who share a solid connection. And Cameron’s own father Mac (Roger Hendricks Simon), an award-winning scientist who used to build rockets in his youth, suffers from dementia and lives in a nursing home.
But then Cameron is replaced as the host of Above And Beyond by Kent Armstrong (also played by Gaffigan), an award-winning scientist and astronaut, who bears a strong resemblance to a younger version of Cameron himself and the show is given a makeover. Kent has moved into a house down the street from Cameron and it turns out that Marc is his son. Marc himself has also been deeply traumatised by his father’s strict ways and is forced to sneak out of the house at night to meet Nora.
Then even stranger things begin to happen around Cameron – a red sports card falls from the sky, and a spaceship crashes into his front yard forcing Cameron and his family to temporarily relocate to live with a relative. Cameron becomes obsessed with building a rocket in his garage using debris from the rocket and he and Marc begin to bond over their mutual fascination with the crashed spaceship.
Linoleum is the sophomore feature from West, who had previously made a few short films that revealed his interest in science fiction themes. This is a high concept film that seems to span several years and explores themes of the human condition, failed dreams, the fragility of life, mid-life crises and mortality. The script has been loosely inspired by his own family and West spent some five years developing the script which he began writing while studying film at USC. West has clearly been inspired by the likes of Charlie Kaufman and he teases the audience with the structure of the film. He throws a lot of weird ideas at the screen, some of which stick. The seemingly unrelated and inexplicable events eventually all coalesce in the third act, but by then most audiences will have become too befuddled to care where the film is headed. The film reminded me of Adrian Lynne’s 1990 thriller Jacob’s Ladder in which a troubled Tim Robbins was plagued by disturbing visions, although some reviewers have also drawn a parallel with the similarly beguiling cult classic Donnie Darko and its dark undertones.
But the film looks great thanks to the cinematography of Ed Wu (The Assassin’s Code, etc), who has shot the film in golden hues that give it a nostalgic feel; but he also uses a saturated rich colour palette for the contemporary sequences. The production design from Mollie Wartelle is also superb, especially with her design for the clunky looking tv show. West, who has also experimented in animation with some music videos, created most of the clever animated sequences himself in his own garage. And the film has been shaped by Keara Burton’s razor-sharp editing.
Cast largely against type, Gaffigan essentially plays it straight in his dual role here and delivers a solid performance as a man who is struggling to comprehend all the strangeness happening around him. He creates a subtle contrast between Cameron and Kent through the way they act, speak and dress. Nacron is also memorable as the headstrong Nora, while Rush brings a vulnerability to his performance as the enigmatic and troubled Marc.
Linoleum is a decidedly quirky film that will mostly appeal to lovers of independent art house cinema.