Producers: Chad Simpson, Dennis Masel and Chadd Harbold Director: Colin West Screenplay: Colin West Cast: Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, Gabriel Rush, Amy Hargreaves, West Duchovny, Elisabeth Henry, Roger Hendricks Simon, Michael Ian Black, Jay Walker, Willoughby Pyle and Tony Shalhoub Distributor: Shout! Studios
Colin West’s second feature is partially about a mid-life crisis, partially a coming-of-age tale, and partially a tale of an elderly man sinking into dementia—and it builds up oddity after oddity in making its way to a revelation that draws them all together like the pieces of a puzzle finally solved. Whether the picture that “Linoleum” ultimately discloses will be enlightening or frustrating will depend on whether viewers thinks that their patience has been rewarded or betrayed.
The film stars actor and stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan in a dual role. He’s firstly Cameron Edwin, a rumpled fifty-something guy depressed by the collapse of his career and his marriage. Trained as an astronomer, he’s losing the hosting gig on the kids’ science show he created for a Dayton PBS outlet with his wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn), who’s now planning to divorce him and take a prestigious museum job in another city. The show was in decline, relegated to a midnight time slot, but what’s especially galling to Cameron is that now that it’s being considered for national expansion, he’ll be replaced by Kent Armstrong, a blustery, arrogant ex-astronaut (Cameron’s own dream had always been to be part of NASA’s space program). It’s also disturbing that Armstrong looks unnervingly like a younger, hardier version of him (Gaffigan also plays Kent).
Cameron has other problems. His father Mac (Roger Hendricks Simon), a former NASA engineer, is in a nursing home, and the doctor there (Tony Shalhoub) informs Cameron that Mac’s dementia is worsening. At home Cameron’s daughter gay Nora (Katelyn Nacon) is finding it difficult to fit in at school, and his young son Sam (Willoughby Pyle) spends most of his time silently playing with his phone.
Additionally, very weird things have started happening to Cameron. After bicycling home from the TV studio one day, a red Corvette crashed out of the sky near him with Kent its driver, yet the next day he’s introduced to the apparently unharmed Kent by his boss (Michael Ian Black). Kent also moves into the house across the street from the Edwin homestead along with his son Marc (Geoffrey Rush), who becomes Nora’s best friend (among other things, they share a Halloween birthday) and also takes to Cameron, who, he confides to the girl, seems like a nicer version of his own domineering father.
But there’s more. A strange elderly woman (Elisabeth Henry) begins appearing to Cameron in the street. And the car isn’t the only thing to fall out of the sky: a remnant of a spacecraft crashes into the Edwin back yard, which Cameron will ultimately identify as part of the Apollo program. At the suggestion of Marc, and with help from Mac, whom he brings back to their house, Cameron undertakes to rebuild the wreckage, perhaps to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut himself. Meanwhile Marc gets into trouble at school and Kent forbids him to see Nora anymore, thinking her the cause of the boy’s behavior—even as the two teens are planning a joint Halloween/birthday party.
The increasingly strangely intertwined events West fashions, and the odd, hallucinatory way he presents them, make “Linoleum” feel evermore quirky, a mash-up of styles and themes that can feel infuriatingly opaque. Yet he manages to meld them all together in the final act, even though on reflection one may conclude that the wrap-up leaves some threads dangling. But Gaffigan grounds the often baffling goings-on with a sympathetic ordinary-guy turn as Cameron (his Kent is something else entirely), and the rest of the cast are solid, with Nacon and Rush in particular hitting all the right notes as youngsters struggling to find their places in their domestic worlds. Production designer Mollie Wartelle and costumer July Rose White add a vaguely nineties quality to the mix, the live-action-and-animation clips from Cameron’s show are used cleverly as transitional devices commenting wryly on the action, and cinematographer Ed Wu, editor Keara Burton and composer Mark Hadley all contribute to the deliberately off-kilter vibe.
You might see “Linoleum” as a smaller but equally surrealistic slice of life as Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise,” with which it shares a small-town Ohio locale, and like that film it will probably elicit strongly divergent reactions. But while in the end it’s really nothing more than a cinematic parlor trick, for the most part it’s an intriguing one, even if a completely satisfactory resolution to its myriad mysteries proves elusive.