– A love letter to the parents
Paul Dano’s directorial debut, written with his long-term partner, Zoe Kazan, gives the audience the world in the teenage boy’s eyes in the late 1950s.
Set in Montana, close to the Canadian border, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and their son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould), move to this suburban area to start a new life. As Jerry loses his job by being too “well-liked” at the golf course, the perfect family begins to show the flaws.
From the first few scenes, you can tell this family is almost too lovable—father and son playing football, mother helping the homework and the whole family listening to the game on the radio. However, it goes downwards before you know it. In the scene that Jeanette is asking about job vacancies, people’s perspective towards sex differences is quite interesting; when she asks for the jobs for men, she gets the answer of the swimming teacher position which she takes eventually. Naturally, it is not common to see women in the bathing suits at that times, not even mention a woman teaching swimming.
Since my familiarity of the ‘50s in the US grows by seeing Carol, Mulligan’s accent is spot on at the first. As the film goes forwards, her accent even changes with times without notice. And, we need to talk about our main POV, Joe. You cannot even tell that Oxenbould is actually Australian.
The whole movie is basically being seen from the only son’s outlook. We see their lives from him watching parents fighting, father leaving and mother cheating, and then we are given his close-ups of reactions. Afterwards, we learn that he sees other people’s lives through the cameras, reflecting his own image of a family.
Photography in films is always intriguing—like giving the storytelling a new perspective. The photos people take are mostly family portraits, corresponding to the family issues as the main theme. Regarding the portraits as the perception of a perfect household, in the end, Joe wants his parents to take a family picture as well. It is almost ironic to see that, under the surface of a photo, there are problems and sorrow no one can expose.