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DIRECTED BY: Colin West
FEATURING: Jim Gaffigan, , Gabriel Rush, Rhea Seehorn, Roger Hendricks Simon
PLOT: When a rocket crashes in his backyard, failed children’s TV-show host Cameron decides to rebuild it; meanwhile, a lot of strange, inexplicable things are happening in his suburban town.
COMMENTS: Linoleum has a lot going on in it, and for a while you may get the sense that it has bitten off more than it will be able to chew. The core story follows Cameron, who once wanted to be an astronaut but has settled for a career as an astronomer-cum-children’s show host, and whose long-running Bill Nye-esque science program has just been shifted to the midnight time slot. It also spends a lot of time following his daughter Nora, who’s a fashionably lesbian outcast until the new boy in town makes her question her sexual identity. There’s also Cameron’s wife Erin, who’s debating her own career choices and her choice of mate, and Cameron’s father, who’s in memory care with dementia. And there’s the new arrival in town, Cameron’s doppelgänger, who crashes onto the scene in a red convertible in miraculous fashion. A lot of weird, reality-defying events happen in this suburban town in an unspecified VHS-era time period, much of it precipitated by the rocket capsule that crashes in Cameron’s back yard. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Linoleum‘s numerous, deliberate Donnie Darko nods, from the FAA-baffling aeronautic MacGuffin to the mysterious old woman hanging around on the periphery to a climax occurring at a Halloween party. So, yeah, there’s a lot going on; to the script’s credit, it’s all eventually explained by the (guessable, but not obvious) ending twist.
Colin West’s third feature film sports capable direction, helped along by a solid cast of indie movie vets. But most of the film’s publicity and buzz rightly centers around stand-up Gaffigan’s unexpected thesping. Although he doesn’t quite sink his wholesome reputation—Cameron is likable, if a bit of a wimp—he does stretch in his secondary role as Kent Armstrong, who brings a different and darker energy. Kent is cocky, and he treats his son with a military dad’s disciplinary philosophy. He’s both a better (younger, more competent) and a worse (less empathetic) version of Cameron. Gaffigan differentiates the two parts nicely, making a strong case he should be considered for more dramatic roles.
There’s a lot to praise in Linoleum, and yet, for me, it doesn’t entirely launch—and I’m not really sure why. The plot mechanics work; the twist satisfyingly ties things together (presuming you prefer things tied up in tidy packages). But the scattered critical reception it received, ranging from raves to confusion, suggest it failed to land universally. Cameron looks at the tangled mess of wires and unknown components he’s gathered from the capsule wreckage and wonders how he’s going to assemble them into a functional rocket. An early trial of the boosters starts with nothing, followed by a gradual growing power-up, followed by disappointment. So even though the assemblage works, it doesn’t work exactly as intended. This is not quite the proper metaphor for my experience of watching Linoleum, but it comes close. On the plus side, Linoleum has a gentle, Gaffiganesque charm and a resolution that tugs on susceptible heartstrings. So although it falls short of a general recommendation, if you are looking for the unusual combination of a puzzle movie with a tearjerking element, I’ll understand if you value this film highly.
No idea why it’s called Linoleum.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…The overload of strange occurrences and oddball coincidences gets unwieldy pretty quickly… Linoleum teases these weird glitches for most of its running time before clumsily explaining them away in a rush of exposition in the final act.”–Josh Bell, CBR