Review by Cole Groth
Colin West’s Linoleum is fantastic. At first glance, it seems like any other film about a man going through a mid-life crisis. However, tucked between the different subplots and a multi-layered sci-fi dramedy is a quietly devastating story about what it means to be fulfilled in life and to fulfill your dreams. Audiences will have fun following along with the various twists and turns that lead to a surreal ending, but if you prefer a simple story, there’s a great time to be had in the excellent performances, writing, score, and humor.
Protagonist Cameron Edwin (played by a never-better Jim Gaffigan) has been fired from his failed children’s science show and is going through a divorce with his wife (Rhea Seehorn). His daughter is growing apart from him, his father’s dementia prevents him from remembering Cameron, and his therapy sessions aren’t helping either. He’s a real sad guy, to say the least. One day, a fancy car comes careening from the sky, and contained within it is a man who seems like his double. He looks the same as Cameron but is more successful on all accounts. This begins an unusual chain of events that leads Cameron to a new understanding of life.
Cameron is an extraordinarily well-written character. He’s a protagonist that feels simultaneously like a blank slate for viewers to relate to and a complicated man whose purpose in life needs to be figured out both by him and the audience. It helps that Jim Gaffigan beautifully portrays Cameron and his double. He effortlessly jumps between an energetic Bill Nye-style TV host and a pushover of a father dealing with his crumbling reality.
West’s script is very engaging. While his pacing is somewhat hard to follow, he captures a certain energy that will resonate with fans of mumblecore. Every character feels rich and multifaceted in a way that sticks in your mind. The four leading characters are given enough time to shine on their own, with each person having their own satisfying subplot.
While Cameron and Erin are dealing with their domestic issues, daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) is figuring her life out. She befriends Marc (Gabriel Rush), the son of Cameron’s double, who’s as much of a misfit as she. Cameron and Nora have very separate paths at first glimpse. On a deeper look, the two characters tell stories of self-discovery. Nora is trying to find herself as a teenager struggling with her sexual orientation, and Cameron is trying to prove himself as the competent man his wife once thought he was.
Gaffigan is supported by brilliant performances from every supporting actor. Rhea Seehorn hasn’t led many feature films besides her breathtaking performance in Better Call Saul. Here, she plays a character similar to Kim Wexler, making her exhaustion with her husband feel like a genuine relationship on the brink of ending. Based on this performance, Katelyn Nacon and Gabriel Rush deliver stellar performances and will surely be a force in their careers. Tony Shaloub appears as a therapist-type character who communicates with Cameron in cryptic and existential nonsequiturs.
From a technical standpoint, Linoleum is an excellent production. Ed Wu’s cinematography highlights the strangeness of an otherwise ordinary world. The production design brilliantly takes us back to when landlines were popular, and space exploration was at its peak. Still, the stand-out is Mark Hadley’s phenomenal score. He brilliantly uses synths to demonstrate the reflective nature of West’s script.
The ending will prove divisive to most viewers, delving deeper into the film’s ambiguously magical nature. Still, to those who love the rest of Linoleum, the ending should only feel earnest and rewarding to those paying attention. Colin West has delivered something genuinely magical that will have you thinking, and thanks to his powerful cast, this stands out as one of the best movies with a release this year.
Linoleum releases in theaters starting February 24.