LINOLEUM

★★★★

A SURREAL JOURNEY INTO RELATIONSHIPS JUST AS MUCH AS SPACE

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
18th March 2023

For all the freedom that it offers, surreality is possibly the most challenging of all cinematic styles. Miss the mark and you risk making a mockery of what you were trying to achieve. Go too light and you lose the effect altogether. For every film that succeeds surrealistically, many more are left by the wayside. So how do you make a piece of cinema that steps outside the traditional rules of how the universe works? For me, the answer is by keeping it grounded through the people that audiences are being asked to relate to - which is precisely how new comedy sci-fi 'Linoleum' aims to handle the issue.

In it, Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan, 'Chappaquiddick', 'Super Troopers' series) is watching his life fall apart around him and there's nothing he can do about it. He and his wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn, TV's 'Better Call Saul' and 'Veep') are about to sign divorce papers, he's just been replaced on his long-running children's science TV show by a more successful, better-looking man, Kent, who looks remarkably like him (also played by Gaffigan), and his entire family has been forced out of their house after the government informed them a Russian satellite crashed from space into their backyard. So to regain some control of his life and fulfil a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, Cameron uses the debris to construct his own wayward rocket ship with the help of Mac (Roger Hendricks Simon, 'Love in Kilnerry') and Kent's son, Marc (Gabriel Rush, 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark', 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', 'Moonrise Kingdom').

SWITCH: 'LINOLEUM' TRAILER

Where to begin with 'Linoleum'? It's a bizarre little film that skirts the edge of the tangible world, toying with reality and poking at the fabric of existence itself. Just as you think the pieces are tumbling in one direction, they end up falling another way entirely. That's a sincerely pleasing outcome, as the final result offers us far more humanity and an unexpected amount of emotion. There are certainly hints littered throughout the story that lead us to its conclusion, but it's cleverly woven amid the space disaster, family drama and midlife crisis so as to come as a pleasant surprise.

The coherence comes largely thanks to grounded performances from the cast. Things could have ended up very silly very quickly, not just through the complex story but with Jim Gaffigan portraying multiple characters. However, his handling of the roles is exemplary; you have two unique characters presented on screen, and although their paths almost never cross, the effect is perfection. That's balanced by Rhea Seehorn's tormented wife, who so badly wants to distance herself from Cam's chaos but also sees a glimmer of a life they once dreamed of years ago. The to-and-fro the pair have nicely establishes the family dynamic and provides motivation for the direction for the narrative. Truly the most charismatic pairing however is Gabriel Rush and Katelyn Nacon (TV's 'The Walking Dead' and 'T@gged') as Jim and Erin's daughter, Nora. The two together are playful and engaging; watching them interact is delightful, and both of their talent in future projects would not be remiss.

It's a bizarre little film that skirts the edge of the tangible world, toying with reality and poking at the fabric of existence itself. Just as you think the pieces are tumbling in one direction, they end up falling another way entirely.

That's not to downplay the work of writer and director Colin West ('Double Walker'). Inspired by personal experiences with his own grandfather, the story rinses tired tropes and presents them to us with a clean, refreshing screenplay. For a creator who only has one previous feature film under his belt, this is an extremely professional offering. 'Linoleum's' 141-minute runtime is well-utilised, rarely feeling wasted. It uses nostalgia as a tool in its storytelling, relying on things like VHS and the Space Race to remove the film from a tangible time and relocate it to a dreamlike cosmos. Whether consciously or not, his work here has flavours of predecessors who have previously forged a path; 'Donnie Darko' and 'Safety Not Guaranteed' offer influence in the best way possible.

Family, love, security - these may all be well-trodden themes in the cinematic realm. 'Linoleum' hopes to present these through the prism of the fantastic, offering its audience a new perspective in the hope you might ruminate on your own existence, your own place in this universe. It's a sturdy offering from Colin West and its cast, with a balance between illusion and drama that leads to a rewarding payoff. Blast off with this film that blazes its own trail, be swept up as it defies gravity, and go along for this handcrafted yet singular ride.

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