Creasy007’s review published on Letterboxd:
"You're wasting your life standing there watching me, sweetheart."
There's something so starkly unlikable about the characters in Paul Dano's directorial debut, 'Wildlife,' that it taints the rest of the proceedings. Dano's detailed eye is noteworthy, displaying the world elegantly yet believably in the turn of the 1960s while showcasing some natural talent behind the camera, but the way the characters carry themselves and react in their own selfish ways is so inherently idiotic and irritating to watch that it kills most of the good on offer. It's a different time, no doubt, and thus the spirit of the times and the attitudes of most workers and families were much different, filled with a stronger sense of pride and need to provide for their family. However, seeing the way Gyllenhaal and Mulligan's characters walk about in pity for themselves while neglecting their child's well-being is ridiculous.
This, of course, is through no fault of the performers themselves but likely a script issue - for me, it makes for one dull, boring experience. Gyllenhaal's Jerry is strong-willed, competent in numerous areas, but a man who can't seem to keep a job. His pride won't let him provide for his loved ones via a job fit for, in his words, "a teenager," so he spends his time idly smoking, watching TV and hiding out in his car, until he opts to take a poor paying job out in the wilderness, fighting a looming wildfire with danger at every turn. Admirable, if not foolish, considering his other, more lucrative options.
Mulligan's Jeanette, on the other hand, an actress who is equally brilliant, brings to life a character who seems straightforward and simplistic in the opening moments but quickly reveals an illogical propensity for cheating with older men and abandoning her child - she stays out late at night, leaving him to fend for himself, while also comporting herself in a wild, carefree, "college days" type lifestyle. She admonishes her husband for trying to decide what's best for their son's future but wastes no time in doing the same for him.
As her affair with an older local man continues, she finds it appropriate to bring Joe around him, even inviting him to a dinner where she salaciously and drunkenly dances with him. It seems like Jeanette has already begun the moving on process without Joe being slightly in the know, having to accept these huge, life-changing decisions without a second thought or an iota of debate. There's financial reasoning behind it, an attempt at future security, but the way she goes about it is stunningly laughable.
It's another film where the technical aspects are fantastic, the performances are great, the various props, sets and vehicles are a lovely method of transportation back to the early '60s, but the script and pacing make for a wickedly cold, tedious viewing. It's a shame this is the end result with so much magnificent talent in front of and behind the camera, and perhaps there are some weightier themes or plot points I missed that would've made this more endearing or engaging, but sadly, it was nothing but a disappointment, in my opinion. I accept I'm in the very, very tiny minority with this sentiment, but that's OK; I do hope Dano's next directorial work does something for me.