Director: Reed Morano
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi
Stories of loss necessitate a skilful touch when creating or adapting them for the screen. For one, a tragic death is not something we have all experienced, not something we can all understand, is more often something we refuse to contemplate unless we are unlucky enough to have it happen to our family. In that way, this is a subject that we don’t want to discuss, which creates a unique challenge. Secondly, tragic dramas are depressing, it’s as simple as that, so a director & his cast must relay the inherent emotions without ruining their audience’s collective evening. It’s not a genre that can be chosen out of hand, nor is it simple to make a movie that relies on heavy emotion, even if emotion is intrinsically why we come to the theatre in the first place. Meadowland isn’t a drama that hits all its goals or avoids all the serious pitfalls of its style. Instead, it’s heavy, slow, unwieldy, and unrelatable; not, I assume, what they were going for.
Sarah & Phil experience the most terrible loss a parent can suffer; the disappearance of their child. At a gas station on a road trip, little Jessie goes into the bathroom, exits unseen through a back door, and isn’t seen again. His frantic mother & father search for their son, but to no avail, and eventually they’ll have to accept the fact that their boy is gone. What was once a happy family has been torn apart by, perhaps, a kidnapper, a death, an accident, they don’t even know, and that quickly becomes the hardest part to live with. They don’t even get the relief of closure that an unfortunate death would bring, all they have is a future that was once bright darkened by the loss of their only child, constantly wondering if he will return.
A year later finds Sarah & Phil no better, if not worse. Their inability to move on from Jessie’s disappearance has begun to seriously damage their marriage and their decision making. Phil, at least, has joined a support group, but this stoic cop has no idea how to cope, and only makes his fellow group members uncomfortable with his suggestions on how to deal with the loss of a loved one. He also can’t help his own wife, a woman who is growing further & further away. Sarah is a teacher who begins a friendship with an autistic boy at her school, but quickly becomes obsessed with his well being and with the memory of her son that he keeps alive. Neither parent knows how to continue, failing to support each other through this terrible time.
This movie was set up to fail if any ever was, with too many hurdles to jump over on its way to being a quality drama. It’s far too heavy, which seems silly to say about a story of loss, but it’s true as well. Constant pressure became oppressive rather than fascinating, with no time given to a break for the audience. There weren’t other elements to offset the sadness, only more sadness and more oppression. At least with a movie like Cake there’s a little inspiration, and with a movie like I Smile Back someone had the balls to hold nothing back. But with Meadowland, there aren’t those aspects to grab on to, aren’t shifts to enjoy between the troubling ebbs & flows of the story, and so the entire thing becomes a brick of dread that’s difficult to stomach.
Give some credit to the pair of leads here, as they both reached deep down for quality performances in a film that could not possibly have been easy to work with. As I said before, grief is not something we want to talk about, and most of us won’t experience something this tragically terrible. For these actors to live it for the duration of this film must have taken a tremendous effort. Olivia Wilde, who often plays the sexy female side character, was strong as the lead of this movie, embodying loss with every expression. Luke Wilson, not known for his serious work, held up well when given the difficult task of being the father at a loss. And the side actors were solid as well: Ribisi, Elisabeth Moss, John Leguizamo, Kevin Corrigan. But these fine actors couldn’t save what was ultimately a bludgeoning of the heart, an overkill of emotion, and an impossible pill to swallow.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video quality of this film is good enough not to take any attention away from the impending doom of the situation, allowing the visuals to remain solid while the emotions of the characters shine through. In other words, the video isn’t the highlight. The film was shot using an Arri Alexa XT camera with Zeiss Master Anamorphic and Angenieux HR Lenses. The muted colors are intentional, with Olivia Wilde sporting a highlighting bright yellow sweater in some scenes as a specific draw of attention. Overall, the visuals are fine & the clarity is passable, but not the focal points.
Audio – The disc was done in English Dolby 5.1, with no menu options or language choices of any kind. The sound, again, was presented at the bare minimum, forcing audiences to feel the pain rather than escape through the technical aspects on the movie.
Extras – There are two special features on the DVD: Behind the Scenes of Meadowland is a 22-minute featurette on the making of the film and there is also a theatrical trailer available to view.
Rent It. I found this film too much to take, and I don’t say that from an overly sensitive position. Tragic plays of this nature are hard enough to accept on their own, they need every ounce of talent the filmmakers & cast have to offer to lift them up to eye level at all. Unfortunately, Meadowland wasn’t deftly done and the result was a clunker of a drama. The emotions were too static and audiences never get a much-needed break. A few moments of levity would have helped, or even the briefest time to step away. Perhaps the constant pressure was intentional, meant to force us to empathize with these characters. But while I can appreciate that, I can’t enjoy it. The video of the film was OK, the audio was indifferent, and the extras were few. There are better tales of woe out there, and I’d recommend that you find them if you just must depress yourself for the night.
☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ – Replay