Tuesday 18 October 2022

LINOLEUM - London Film Festival 2022

When Cameron, the host of a TV science show and wannabe astronaut meets his more successful doppelgänger, he's sent into an existential crisis that will affect his whole family. With his career and personal life in a mess, his only response is to build a rocket of his own and fulfilling his dream of journeying into space. A suburban sci-fi fantasy, Colin West's Linoleum was part of the cult strand at this year's London Film Festival.

Comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan stars as Cameron, the host of Above and Beyond, a Bill Nye the Science Guy-style local TV show that asks questions about the universe, relegated to a late night slot where none of his core audience can see it. His wife Erin (Rhea Seahorn) is unhappy in the marriage and wants a divorce, his teenage daughter (Katelyn Nacon) barely talks to him, and worst of all, a car has seemingly fallen from the sky carrying Cameron's more debonair, successful, astronaut lookalike. All of this serves to send him into an existential crisis that he might not recover from.

It's not unheard of that twisty-turny, timey-wimey sci-fi films end up sharing basic story elements. The biggest problem that Linoleum has is that, despite its attempts to offer something new, it all feels familiar. Sometimes uncomfortably so. The suburban dad mid-life crisis has been seen in everything from Kevin Spacey in American Beauty to Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in the Vacation films, grimacing through the pain in order to maintain the air of normality in their life. That's forgivable to a point. What is less easy to forgive and, frankly, impossible to ignore is Linoleum's biggest problem... the Donnie Darko problem.

Wilfully poaching characters, story beats and entire scenes from Richard Kelly's 2001sci-fi classic, one of Linoleum's early scenes sees Darko's slo-mo arrival at school sequence (indelibly set to Tears for Fears' Head Over Heels) cloned almost shot for shot, with askew camera angles and staccato frame speeds. The film also features a Grandma Death-esque figure, mysteriously standing off in the distance observing the main characters without any real interaction. On the more egregiously blatant side of thievery (we're way beyond homage here), the main characters even have an unidentifiable jet engine land on their house. It's unthinkable that writer/director Colin West thought the comparisons could exist without comment.

The saving grace of this Darko mirroring is The Walking Dead's Katelyn Nacon as Gaffigan's daughter Nora, who takes on a sort of gender-swapped Donnie role, crossed with his girlfriend Gretchen. With respect to Gaffigan who gives his dual roles his all, Nacon is absolutely the shining star of this often baffling film, providing a confident, charming, yet still weird character who's easy to root for as she builds an unconventional relationship with new neighbour boy and son of Cameron's rival, Marc (Gabriel Rush). In what could have easily been a stock Manic Pixie character, she gives the film real heart in among the doppelgänger/time paradox shenanigans.

With a concept stretched to its absolute limit (it's no surprise to learn West expanded this from an earlier short film), despite first appearances as a semi-generic sci-fi brain muddler with obvious filmic influences, come the finale and a big reveal, Linoleum manages to impressively knit itself together to deliver something truly surprising and actually moving. It's just a shame that for the bulk of the film, Linoleum feels disappointingly derivative, like West fell asleep in front of an old cathode ray TV showing Donnie Darko, American Beauty and Bill Nye, and this is the script they wrote when they woke up.



Linoleum was part of this year's London Film Festival. It does not currently have a UK release date.

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