THE STORY – Cameron Edwin, the host of a failing TV science show for children, has always had aspirations of being an astronaut. When a mysterious satellite coincidentally falls from space and lands in his backyard, his midlife crisis manifests into a plan to rebuild the machine into a rocket. As surreal events start to unfold around him, he slowly realizes that there’s more to his life story than he once thought.
THE CAST – Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, Gabriel Rush, Amy Hargreaves, Roger Hendricks Simon, Elisabeth Henry, West Duchovny, Michael Ian Black & Tony Shalhoub
THE TEAM – Colin West (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
It’s something of a miracle when a film can genuinely surprise. Audiences are so attuned to the tropes and expectations of American cinema that so few modern ones are able to catch viewers off-guard. “Linoleum” does just that. This big-hearted film about a family in crisis – even though they may not be completely aware – does such an excellent job of concealing its ultimate intentions that it’s wonderfully tricky to predict moment-to-moment. While it’s not the most profound film ever made, it makes up for that with appropriate pathos and sentiment.
Things aren’t going well for Cameron (Jim Gaffigan). His children’s science TV show is failing, his wife is leaving him, and objects keep falling out of the sky. When supposedly Russian space debris lands in his backyard, he finds himself reinvigorated to explore the stars and rekindle his long-deferred dreams of space flight.
Part of what makes “Linoleum” so compellingly mysterious is its constantly shifting tone. It eventually swells to a moving, wistful finale, but the film that proceeds it gleefully defies labels. At one moment, it’s a sympathetic story about one man going through something akin to a highly calm mid-life crisis, and at another, it’s an uncanny, magically realist tale about the strange energy bubbling just under the surface of the suburbs. This refusal to be boxed in by a predominant tone keeps the audience on their toes and their attention on the screen.
An affable Gaffigan leads the film. He’s an average middle-class dad who, like many of his type, finds himself reckoning with his misplaced goals and dreams. Gaffigan gives a grounded performance, never allowing himself to truly stand out in this hyper-normal world. This wise choice keeps the film steady, even when it stretches believability for thematic purposes. And, as his beleaguered wife Erin, Rhea Seehorn is fantastic. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen her stunning work on “Better Call Saul,” and here she’s able to convey an inner layer of sadness underneath her typical no-nonsense exterior. Here’s hoping she can continue playing fully-rounded characters from her phenomenal breakthrough television success.
While the general energy of the film invites the audience’s curiosity, some of the writing does the opposite and merely distracts. As in too many films, the characters of “Linoleum” have a tendency to pour out all their inner thoughts and typically hidden feelings to whoever is standing in front of them, regardless of whether it’s tonally or characteristically appropriate. These exchanges are sometimes even odder than some of the film’s more fantastical elements.
“Linoleum” is a gentle, heartfelt film about taking stock of life at all stages of one’s existence. It’s far from revolutionary in its discoveries and revelations, but it’s the kind of thoughtful film that beckons viewers towards the same types of realizations which occur to its characters.