Review: Jim Gaffigan stares down reality as a man with big dreams in ‘Linoleum’
As a stand-up comedian, Jim Gaffigan is known for gently self-deprecating, mostly family-friendly jokes about everyday life and food. But as an actor — and especially in the movies and TV series where he’s taken the lead — Gaffigan seems drawn to thoughtfully offbeat projects such as his new film “Linoleum,” a minor-key domestic drama gradually transformed into something grander by its science-fiction elements.
Gaffigan plays a dual role: Cameron Edwin, a good-hearted educational TV host whose career and family life have been slowly deteriorating for years; and Kent Armstrong, a more successful but much icier man, who moves across the street from Cam. When an old piece of space junk falls out of orbit and into the Edwins’ backyard, Cam decides to revive his old dream of becoming an astronaut by converting the machinery into a rocket, capable of escaping Earth’s gravity. As he tinkers, he discovers that time and space are breaking down in his immediate vicinity.
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Writer-director Colin West frequently shifts focus away from Cam to cover what’s going on with two of his loved ones: Erin (Rhea Seehorn), his frustrated wife, who has filed for divorce and is weighing a lucrative job offer in her field of aeronautics; and Nora (Katelyn Nacon), their brilliant, iconoclastic teenage daughter, who feels an instant connection when she meets Kent’s charmingly nerdy son, Marc (Gabriel Rush).
These digressions initially seem like a miscalculation on West’s part. The quasi-romance between Nora and Marc is sweet but unremarkable, and less interesting than the interactions between Cam and Nora (who finds her dad ridiculous but lovable) and Cam and Marc (who hangs out at the Edwin place both to talk science and to escape his exhaustingly demanding father). As for Erin, at the start of the film her character comes across as one of the worst dramatic cliches: the unappreciative, nagging spouse. It’s a waste of Seehorn’s talents — again, at first.
But in the second half of “Linoleum,” the scattered pieces of the story start coming together, connected in part by old clips from Cam’s TV series, which show him sharing his enthusiasm for the mysteries of the universe — sometimes with Erin as his equally eager co-host. The past and the present start bleeding together as the Edwins try to puzzle out where everything went wrong with their marriage and with their dreams.
West has a lot on his mind with this film; and he’s ultimately less interested in explaining everything happening onscreen than in free-associating about the complicated, lifelong relationship between children and their parents. But Gaffigan’s everyman presence and seeker’s soul make him a great vessel for big ideas. He can make an ordinary guy who’s trying to become an amateur astronaut look poignant, not silly. As reality bends around Cam, he looks more wowed than scared. His amazement becomes ours.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: Starts Feb. 24, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood
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