Directed by: Reed Morano
Premise: A little boy vanishes under mysterious circumstances. A year later his parents (Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson) struggle to cope with their loss.
What Works: Meadowland is a movie about the repercussions of grief. In this film, a couple is stuck in prolonged anxiety. Their son has been missing for a year and although the likelihood of finding him alive is slim they hold out hope. In that respect this movie is a bit subversive. Whenever tragedy strikes, survivors are often comforted by well-wishers advising them to hold onto hope. But in Meadowland hope becomes poisonous. The only thing worse than losing a loved one is not knowing if he or she is okay and both the husband and wife suffer from the psychological trauma of living in limbo for so long. The film plays upon that idea effectively. The extent to which Meadowland succeeds is largely due to its central performances by Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson. This couple is suffering and trying to make sense of what’s happened and Wilde and Wilson behave credibly as people in pain. Of the two, the film is slightly more interested in the plight of Wilde’s character. She medicates herself with prescription drugs and alcohol but it’s clearly not enough and Wilde gives a tremendous performance of someone aching with pain. Wilson is also impressive. The script gives him less ostentatious moments than it does to Wilde but Wilson allows his grief to sift through his masculine exterior. That’s one of the extraordinary things about Meadowland; with this premise the movie could get obnoxiously weepy but the filmmakers and the actors maintain tight control and don’t give themselves over to sentimentality. That makes this movie far more impactful than a soppy drama. The realism of the movie is enhanced by the way it is shot. Meadowland is staged and edited in a straightforward style but it also features gritty images and the actors are spared the glamourous makeup of a Hollywood movie. The filmmakers trust the material and allow the drama to play out which it does to increasingly intense effect.
What Doesn’t: The sound quality of Meadowland is uneven. Certain scenes suffer from some audible distortion or the folly effects are too loud. Fortunately, this only occurs in a handful of places. The cast of Meadowland includes Giovanni Ribisi in a supporting role as the husband’s drug addicted brother. The presence of his character makes very little sense. The husband is a police officer so for him to take in his crack smoking brother is unlikely. But more problematic for Meadowland is that Ribisi’s character makes no impact on the story. He does not do anything meaningful in the movie nor does he act as a Greek chorus. He’s just there and the movie would be the same without him. The first two acts of Meadowland are quite good but the film goes awry in its final portion. Both the husband and wife make some unmotivated and unlikely decisions and those choices don’t come with any apparent repercussions. Most critically, the ending of Meadowland does not resolve the central question of the story: can these people continue to be a couple? The loss of their child has created a fissure in their relationship and throughout the film they drift further apart. The movie does not necessarily have to answer this question definitively but it ought to end in a way that’s relevant to it. The final portion of Meadowland takes the characters away from that central issue.
Bottom Line: Meadowland is a gritty drama with some extraordinary performances by Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson. The movie gets away from its central premise but on the whole this film is a powerful look at the impact of loss and grief.
Episode: #569 (November 15, 2015)