Linoleum

M, 102 minutes

4 Stars

 

Review by © Jane Freebury

This is one of those movies that turns out to have a lot more to it than we think along the way. It sets a number of things in motion that set up some sweet but not unfamiliar life issues for its characters before it does a full reveal towards the end.

Plot construction is impressive. Events take place but the connections remain blurred until the end, when it becomes clear how everything fits together.

As simple as it is clever, this American indie from writer-director Colin West is about several life stages, shown simultaneously. Growing up and assuming a mature gender identity, relationship breakdown, dealing with adversity and disappointment during mid-life, and coming to terms during aging with what one has done or not done with one’s life.

At the gentle heart of the story is high school science teacher Cameron Edwin, played by stand-up comedian and best-selling author Jim Gaffigan. At this point in time, Cam is having a bit of a crisis as he hits 50, fails to get his TV science show moved to a more popular timeslot and can’t convince his wife, Erin (Rhea Seehorn), to hold off on the divorce she is initiating.

All the while, developments are interspersed with sessions with Cameron’s psychiatrist, who tries to explain the importance of giving the brain a good cleanse to flush out the old and usher in the new.

The name of Cam’s long-running science education show may be ‘Above and Beyond’. In reality, and despite some early promise, Cam has not attained the success that he anticipated. If life is made up of astronomers and astronauts, then he would have to reluctantly concede that he hadn’t progressed beyond the former.

Is it ever too late? Heck, no. When a rocket lands in his backyard it is a golden opportunity

The media have labelled it ‘sputnik in suburbia’ and he and his family are banned from returning home until the object is assessed. But with the help of his elderly dad (Roger Hendricks Simon), a former engineer who lives in an old folks’ home, Cam sets about getting it ready for re-launch.

Perhaps not so silly now as rocket labs proliferate, but back then such crazy ambition marked people as nutjobs. Linoleum is of course set in 1950s Middle America, when paranoia was high, paradoxically, in the states of the union located furthest from unfriendly borders.

The decade has been lovingly re-created in the fashions, the cluttered interiors of clapboard houses and in the sleek gas guzzlers that prowl the streets of Fairview Heights where the Edwins live. The ubiquitous floor covering of the period that gives the film its name, linoleum, hardly figures however.

Every now and then, scenes of everyday routine are slowed down to a dreamy slow-motion and accompanied by a three-note musical motif on the soundtrack. A style that very effectively says it all. Nothing much ever happens in this suburban backwater, where the teenager’s halloween parties may be the highlight of the year.

Cam’s stroppy, gay teenage daughter has a pretty merciless take on her dad, but Nora (Katelyn Nacon a stand out) is only working herself out like everyone else in the family.

Jim Gaffigan in Linoleum. Image courtesy Kismet

It’s so weird for her, but weirdest for Cam, that the father of the new guy in school who becomes her friend, in part because neither of them quite fit in, looks like a spruced-up version of her own dad, his slick doppelganger. Gaffigan also plays the insufferable, bible-bashing, red Corvette-driving Kent.

As Marc, the boy next door, Gabriel Rush is one of a solid ensemble cast. If some of the performances are a little mannered, and the mise en scene rather apple-pie, this small film is relatable and wise. With a surprisingly moving denouement that quickly unfolds in the final scenes.

You may also ask, as the characters ask themselves in Linoleum, what exactly is happening. They, and we, get the same answer, sometimes things just happen. But it’s followed by the response, it’s not that simple. Until the resolution.

Large objects fall out of the sky, various life stories run concurrently, but it all fits together beautifully in the end. Linoleum’s young director also hails from a cul-de-sac in the Midwest, but his work on the up and up.

First published in the Canberra Times on 1 April 2023.  Jane’s reviews are also published on Rotten Tomatoes