Cameron Edward, a fiftyish host of a failed kid’s TV show, is having a difficult time. His wife, Erin, doesn’t respect him. His daughter isn’t too impressed either, though she at least seems to be somewhat sympathetic toward him, and his son barely speaks at all. His kid’s show airs at midnight, being overlooked for more traditional Saturday morning time slot. And as we quickly discover, his wife is filing for divorce.
Then, one day, as he’s biking home from work a red corvette drops upside-down from the sky. He goes to look at the driver, and it’s him. Not the current him, but a younger, better-looking version of him.
If that weren’t confusing enough, nobody seems to have heard about this odd happening and the driver of the red Corvette, one Nick Armstrong (and his car) are not only fine, but apparently slated to replace him as the host of the TV show he created.
The icing on the cake is when a rocket, a Sputnik or some similar space debris crashes in his backyard and the government won’t let him see it and won’t let him back in his own house.
Welcome to Linoleum, writer/director Colin West’s odd little slice-of-life drama which is also (erroneously) labeled as a comedy. There are funny parts to it, and “funny” parts to it, but this is straight up drama, the presence of Jim Gaffigan (as Edward and Armstrong) notwithstanding.
This is such a refreshing film to find in this, the two-thousand and twenty-third year of Our Lord. It reminded me a bit of Donnie Darko, but without the pretensions. Also refreshing: Every aspect of this movie makes sense and fits into the larger narrative, once you understand what’s going on. Anybody can drop a Corvette upside down from the sky; not everyone can have that make sense.
The main drives of this movie are Edward reclaiming his youthful dreams of doing something fantastic—like building a working rocket from the detritus that fell from the sky—and reclaiming his relationship with Erin, and secondarily the relationship between Edward’s daughter Nora and Armstrong’s son Marc. Toward the end of the second act, I began to feel like the movie was focusing too much on the Nora/Marc relationship, only to discover I was completely wrong.
The movie never gets so enamored of its central conceit that it loses sight of its characters, their drives, and their essential humanity. West, perhaps because he wrote the story, is content to let it play out without going overboard with tricky photography, though there are plenty of nice shots.
I suppose it must be asked, alas, if it is woke or woke-ish? In normal times, I’d say no, not at all. Though it certainly leans on the trope of the evil Christian—Nick Armstrong is the movie’s main foil and a hypocritical churchgoer. Nora, who is clearly attracted to Marc, but denying it, claims to be either lesbian or bisexual, while Marc wears women’s underwear but this all works out to be typical teenage posturing. The movie itself itself is a validation of heterosexuality and “normal” lifestyles. Which is a weird thing to type, but I know also that some of y’all are hypersensitive to any odd sexuality (and who can blame anyone for that after the past decade’s full-on cultural onslaught?), so I feel obliged to point it out.
For what it’s worth, the film’s other villain is Erin’s wine-drinking Karen of a friend, Linda, who speaks in new-agey terms while positively salivating at the thought of Erin dumping Cameron and slutting it up for a while.
Top-notch acting all around. Of course we’re sympathetic toward Cameron, but Gaffigan manages to create a sympathetic vibe for Nick as well. As a character, Nick could’ve been drawn with a little more depth (though there are story reasons why he isn’t), but Gaffigan doesn’t give off monster vibes. I attribute that partly to Gaffigan’s performance but presumably also West didn’t want him to appear that way either.
Even so, I felt like Rhea Sheehorn (as Erin) had the more challenging role: She starts off a little shrewish, as her doughy, aimless husband meanders through life and she has given up on her own dreams in exchange for a little security. As Cameron becomes more obsessed with building a rocket, she gets more convinced he’s going through some midlife crisis, and it’s really Linda, with her glib “take the big city job and start over again” attitude that causes her to reflect on whether or not that’s really what she wants. The subversiveness of this movie (in 2023) is that not abandoning your loser husband but helping him through the tough spots is actually celebrated. It’s a fine line for an actress to walk and remain appealing, and Sheehorn pulls it off beautifully.
The teen would-be lovers, played by Katelyn Nacon and Gabriel Rush, also do a good job. Marc (Rush) is cowed by his father but also defiant. Nacon is appealing despite the (again, very teenage) outsider-ism, too-cool-for-school attitude. As the movie unfolds, her relationship with her father (whom she insists on calling Cameron) is one of the strongest aspects of the film: When you get to the end of the film, you want to re-watch it in light of all the new information. The kids do well in the movie.
As I watched this, I sorta figured the cast was relatively low profile to keep the budget down. That said, Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”) has a surprising role as a nursing home director. Michael Ian Black (“The State”) didn’t even register with me as Cameron’s unctuous boss who gives his show to Nick.
The music is just so. Not too heavy-handed. Not not-there-at-all.
Overall, it’s a nice little movie. (Again, it’s not a “dramedy” or a “comedy/drama”, unless you view a “drama” as being completely humorless. It’s a drama where odd things happen.) It’s the sort of movie you’d expect to be any movie studio’s bread-and-butter, and (while very modern) pleasantly recalls old school melodramas.
It also very much feels like an expanded version of the intro to another recent classic, but I can’t say more without spoilers.